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State of the Early Childhood Workforce: Hiring, Retention & More

January 13, 2022
Updated November 21, 2023

As a new year begins, challenges from previous years still plague the early childhood education (ECE) workforce. Early care and education jobs continue to pay far less than those for K-12 teachers. More than 10% of child care workers across the country have left the industry during the pandemic due to temporary program closures, furloughs, and – more recently – wage competition. Barriers to recruiting diverse ECE teachers persist, disproportionately affecting people of color, as well as low-income and non-native English-speaking teachers. All of this and more is taking place against the backdrop of a COVID-19 pandemic that continues to rage, with rising case counts, confusing (and sometimes conflicting) guidance from health authorities, and school staffing and attendance numbers constantly in flux due to virus-related absences.

Yet despite what may seem like insurmountable obstacles, ECE leaders across the country – including at Educare schools – are making strides towards a brighter tomorrow. From hiring innovations to recruitment best practices, federal policies to local models, here’s how we’re working together to drive systems change in early childhood education.

How Educare Schools Are Addressing Hiring & Retention

In December, leaders from Educare schools in Atlanta, Flint, Kansas City, Lincoln, Miami, New Orleans, Tulsa, Washington, D.C. and West DuPage met virtually to discuss current happenings and share best practices for hiring, retention and more.

Tulsa Educare at MacArthur shared that their school is partaking in a “massive” hiring campaign, involving elements such as branded t-shirts for all staff, recruitment signage with QR codes for easier access, offering an increased staff referral bonus, and focusing more on staff benefits during hiring discussions. Educare Atlanta also shared how their school is leaning into social media as a “big push” to help with the recruitment process.

In previous conversations, Educare Lincoln also shared ideas to help school leaders effectively identify, engage and hire staff, such as leveraging partnerships and investing in future staff and school outcomes.

Best practices don’t stop once staff have joined an Educare school, either. Leaders agreed that the first two weeks of onboarding in particular are extremely important for a strong start. Strategies for success include providing an initial welcome and follow-up check-in from school leaders; helping new hires build connections and relationships with other staff throughout the school; and continuing to create a strong school culture that supports staff and teacher wellbeing and development.

Researchers within the Educare Learning Network are also looking into possible predictors of staff retention and turnover. A preliminary investigation of Educare data showed that across all types of teaching staff – lead and co-lead teachers, assistants and aides – those with more education were at greater risk of leaving their positions. Not surprisingly, those with a lower opinion of their work environment and conditions were more likely to leave. While research is ongoing, these early findings can help indicate areas for continued development and investment in the ECE workforce.

How Federal Policies Can Create Change for Early Childhood Education

President Biden’s Build Back Better Plan, passed by the House and currently under consideration by the Senate, is one example of how federal policies can positively impact the ECE workforce.

Build Back Better includes policies and investments that, if enacted, would help build a strong, stable early learning system that meets the needs of families, providers and the economy.

For early childhood care and learning providers, Build Back Better would help resolve foundational flaws in the system caused by decades of underinvestment, which created a model that often means near-poverty wages for early educators. In short, this plan aims to raise wages and sufficiently compensate the ECE workforce, with participating child care providers paid based on a cost estimation model or cost study.