How to attract and retain staff in the Early Years sector
There’s no doubting that the Early Years (EY) sector has faced – and continues to come up against – many hurdles due to COVID-19. But with careful planning, resilience and peer collaboration, the sector has adapted to continue supporting child development, both in and out of the lockdown period.
And while the ‘staffing crisis’ is a term which was in the media way before the pandemic began – largely due to government underfunding and low wages – it’s arguably been more at the forefront of nursery managers’ minds with the furlough scheme having ended last October, and the need to make decisions for the coming months, taking both Coronavirus and Brexit into consideration.
It’s no secret that right at the heart of the nursery sector lies a passion and commitment to deliver high-quality childcare that puts development first – every time. And the people who operate in this sphere – no matter whether it’s nursery managers, practitioners, technology providers, journalists or policymakers – all share the common goal of wanting to provide the best outcomes for youngsters. It’s this which attracts most people to the industry in the first place.
Keeping staff communications flowing
For nursery managers, one of the many challenges facing them at the moment concerns staff morale – all while there’s an ever-evolving new normal going on around us, to try and keep a track of.
One of the most pertinent messages we’ve heard throughout the pandemic is to ‘keep talking’, and this has never been more relevant in EY settings.
The ongoing uncertainty around what’s next means we all have good and not-so-good days at the office – that’s completely normal. But having supportive management goes a long way in not only ensuring an employee’s voice – and any concerns – are heard, but also in helping to foster a collaborative and wellbeing-centric environment, where all employees feel valued and in the loop.
From a simple 10-minute team briefing before the children arrive – acknowledging what’s worked well and what’s on the agenda for the week ahead – to conducting regular feedback surveys and social, albeit virtual, activities, these seemingly ‘little things’ can go a long way in helping to motivate staff and make them feel recognised for their continued hard work.
In the times we find ourselves in, communication has never played a greater role in helping to provide reassurance and clarity or alleviate worries surrounding the Government’s changing COVID-19 guidance or Brexit legislation updates. So, no matter how a nursery operates – whether it’s a weekly team get-together or an open-door policy – strong leadership based upon honesty and transparency with colleagues, is crucial for ensuring everyone is on the same page to help operations run as smoothly as possible.
Empowerment and engagement
While agile management, a clear pedagogical approach and core values are undoubtedly vital in helping to steer the EY ship through these choppy waters, as we look ahead to 2021, role autonomy and parental engagement are two additional factors which can help to not only retain the workforce but attract new faces too.
And no matter whether a setting is paper-based or digital-first, practitioners must have clear processes in place to make their day-jobs as seamless and time-efficient as possible.
This could be in the form of offering regular – virtual-based – training courses to upskill staff and keep paving the way with their professional development, or implementing digital-first communication methods that encourage interaction with the children’s parents.
Each setting’s needs will be unique, so managers should take time to assess what the current situation looks like in their nursery and outline what is required to move forward effectively.
In short, the more employees feel invested in – not necessarily financially, but more in relation to trust and confidence – the more they will likely feel a greater satisfaction within their role. And by bridging communications between practitioners with parents, this can help to promote child development outside of the nursery setting and in the home. As a result, families can easily work in tandem with EY professionals on progressing their children’s learning journey – allowing both parties to feel a unified sense of reward.
It’s no secret that many EY salaries are in the ‘low paid’ category, and this is one of the biggest obstacles that has faced the sector for years – particularly regarding retention and recruitment. Yet, while this can’t be remedied overnight, by believing in staff’s abilities, and giving them autonomy and the tools to spend time focusing on child development, nursery leaders are creating a positive environment of empowerment. And that’s something nobody can put a number on.
When it comes to attracting and retaining talent within this sector, workforce recognition, time investment and sustained support really help to make a difference between a job someone likes and one they love.
And while the industry challenges aren’t going away any time soon, if nursery managers and practitioners keep collaborating and believing in one another, it will go a long way in helping to weather the storm and come out the other side stronger.