Recruiting high-quality staff in the early years
Guest Blog: Charlotte Goddard
Recruitment of high-quality staff in the early years sector was already an issue back in 2012 when Professor Cathy Nutbrown published her landmark review of early education and childcare qualifications. Now, with the added pressure of Covid, recruitment and retention of Level 3 practitioners, in particular, has reached a crisis point in many nurseries.
Necessity is the mother of invention, however, and many nurseries are showing impressive innovation and thinking outside the box when it comes to recruitment. So what can be done to attract high-quality staff to your setting?
Growing your own
Providing training and support to “grow your own” talent rather than relying on recruiting from outside has been a successful strategy for many early years settings. Taking on apprentices at Level 2, Level 3 and since last summer, Level 5 allows nurseries to ensure practitioners’ learning fits with their own ethos and approach. Increasingly, nursery groups are looking to set up their own training arms, giving them a pool of talent to recruit from, but smaller settings can also take on apprentices.
There is also funding available to support graduate qualifications – employers are able to claim £7,000 to contribute to costs incurred while an employee is training to become an Early Years Teacher.
In the current climate, it is hard for nurseries to offer the salaries they would like to. Some are able to offer a welcome bonus, but this is beyond the means of many. Instead, settings are being creative about the benefits they offer staff- free childcare for employees, access to a private medical programme, flexible working opportunities, an internal awards scheme – the list is endless. In the post-Covid world, candidates will be looking for employers who go all-out to support staff wellbeing. The Anna Freud Centre has a great toolkit to support early years settings to promote staff mental and physical health.
Focus on career development
Nurseries that are known to prioritise upskilling staff are also more likely to attract quality candidates, with practitioners keen to come to settings where they know they will be able to progress their careers. Make sure your website and marketing materials reflect the training and career development opportunities available. Rather than lose staff to promotion opportunities elsewhere, some settings give staff the chance to specialise in a certain area, with roles such as literacy, maths or SEND lead.
The job ad
The recruitment ad is an opportunity for a nursery to stand out against its competitors. Make sure the ad focuses on the importance of that particular role within that team in that nursery, not just generalised statements that could describe any role. When Nursery World magazine asked more than 500 early years workers what they would like to see included in job ads, they said pay, hours, and terms and conditions like holiday allowance. You should also make sure your ads actively and positively welcome people from diverse backgrounds and with disabilities. Think about using a number of different terms for the job to get picked up by search engines – people looking for the same role might search for different job titles.
Targeting new demographics
When the same CVs are circling endlessly, nurseries that think outside the box are likely to be rewarded. Some groups have looked abroad for recruitment: Brexit and the pandemic have made this more difficult, but not impossible. If you decide to take this route, it is best to work with a third-party recruitment organisation in the country you are targeting.
With women making up around 97 percent of the workforce in an average nursery, male childcare workers are an untapped market. The London Early Years Foundation has launched a male apprenticeship programme to encourage more men into the sector.
Other potential markets include older people, parents returning to the workplace, career-changers driven to rethink their life by the pandemic, and the recently redundant. Social media platforms, such as Facebook, allow super-specific targeting – by demographic, interest, and location. To reach older people, for example, make sure imagery and language are age-inclusive and try networking in local community groups that tend to have higher numbers of people aged over 50. Open days held at the weekend or in the evening will make it easier for potential candidates to come and see what you have to offer.
Partner with local schools and colleges
Nurseries often worry that teachers are still pushing childcare as a career option for the less academic. Reaching bright young people early makes sense, whether that is taking a stand at local school careers days, offering work experience, or visiting schools to talk about a career in childcare. Research has shown that Gen Z is more concerned with job satisfaction than being wealthy – good news for the early years sector! – so promoting the difference early education makes is a good strategy when targeting the young. London Early Years Foundation, for example, has linked up with students from Central Foundation Girls’ School, Lilian Baylis School, Fulham College and Harris Academy South Norwood.
In a competitive market, your setting needs to stand out – skilled and ambitious people look for employers they respect. Early years practitioners put a nursery’s quality or reputation above pay when looking for a job, according to Nursery World’s research. What sets your nursery apart? Smaller settings, for example, can market themselves on their family feel and their independence, or their specific pedagogical approach. Find out what your staff like about working there, and think about making some case study videos or including their stories on your website or on your social media. Think about offering an employee referral bonus, and rewarding staff who introduce candidates who end up working for the company. Make sure your ethos and approach are at the heart of all your communications including recruitment advertising.
There are a number of actions that need to be taken on a national level to drive up the number of qualified staff in the sector. The Early Years Alliance for example, is calling on the government to set out what it considers to be a suitable salary for each level in the sector,” in light of the pivotal importance of early years professionals in supporting children’s learning and development”, and to provide funding levels that allow settings to pay staff at those rates. The EYA is also calling for a high-profile, national campaign to encourage talented and dedicated professionals into the sector. This is something that has worked for other professions, including social work, health care and even prison officers – it would be great to see it happen in the early years as well.
Charlotte Goddard is a writer and editor who has covered the childcare and early education sector for 15 years. In 2019 she became a Jacobs Foundation Journalism Fellow, focusing on education, learning and child development.