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Innovative Solutions to Early Childhood Workforce Challenges

March 14, 2024
Updated March 6, 2024

As media coverage has made clear in recent months, the early childhood education (ECE) sector continues to face a nationwide workforce crisis. There aren’t enough qualified teachers to meet the needs of children and families. Compensation is at an all-time low. The path to obtaining credentials is often murky and inequitable. Yet despite the many obstacles facing early learning and care professionals, glimmers of a path towards a brighter future still shine. Schools across the Educare Network are innovating, problem-solving and designing solutions that fit their community. Here’s how two schools are addressing workforce challenges through hiring practices and continuing education!

Educare Atlanta: SOAR Hiring Program

The Sheltering Arms Educare Selective Open Active Recruitment (SOAR) Job Fair Series began as a Human Resources initiative to provide a creative way to recruit, hire and retain staff with unique experience. First launched in January 2023, SOAR is now a successful series of monthly, invite-only boutique job fairs, held on a small but impactful scale and offering on-the-spot job offers.

How It Works: Program Logistics & Goals

“The goal for the SOAR event is to hire, train and retain staff to fill vacancies across our 13 Sheltering Arms locations,” shares Educare Atlanta School Director Tatjyana Elmore. “We look to hire new staff who have a passion and desire to work in early education.”

Current staff – center directors, curriculum specialists, mentor teachers, family support and administration – are asked to participate each month. During the event, candidates are provided with meals and child care services. If they accept a job offer, they will complete the new hire paperwork, start the background check and drug testing processes, and receive a sign-on bonus.

Lessons So Far: Key Takeaways

While SOAR has led to the hiring of 20 candidates at Educare Atlanta alone, these new hires need additional support when transitioning into the ECE field. Candidates who attend SOAR typically have limited or no early learning experience and come from various working backgrounds, with the majority of new hires only having a high school diploma that qualifies them for part-time positions with lower wages. Some new hire experiences have resulted in resignation due to a lack of understanding of early learning best practices, flexibility with work schedules, and low wages.

Ultimately, these new hires are eager to learn and willing to assist – but it is important for schools to keep that momentum going in order to retain them and successfully address workforce challenges.

Looking Ahead: Hopes for the Future

“We hope to enhance our onboarding system to deliver quality training, coaching and support to retain these candidates,” Elmore says.

The planned approach is to offer a one-hour training and coaching session covering topics that include license guidelines, Sheltering Arms policies and procedures, the Educare Network, the basis of age-appropriate child development, and more.

Sheltering Arms also offers Child Development Associate (CDA) classes to new hires with high school diplomas to secure Lead and Assistant Teacher roles within Educare Atlanta and other centers.

Educare West DuPage: Continuing Education Partnerships

Education and professional learning are essential for ECE professionals who want to advance in their careers. By continuing to learn and grow, these professionals can stay up to date on the latest research and best practices in the field, develop new skills, and take on more responsibilities – which can lead to promotions, higher salaries and greater job satisfaction.

To provide staff with opportunities for continuing education and professional learning, Educare West DuPage has built several partnerships with higher education institutions. These partnerships include:

  • National Louis University: a long-standing partnership offering various undergraduate and graduate programs in early childhood education, where staff can take courses online and complete student teaching at Educare.
  • Western Illinois University: a recent partnerships offering various undergraduate and graduate programs in early childhood education, where staff can take courses online and complete student teaching at Educare.
  • Erikson Institute: a partnership offering a Master of Science in Early Childhood Education degree program and an Infant Early Childhood Mental Health certificate program. These programs are designed specifically for early childhood professionals and can be completed in just 2 years.
  • College of DuPage: a recent partnership to offer an Apprenticeship program, ideal for early childhood professionals who want to earn college credit and potentially an associate degree in the field while continuing to work full time.

The Impact: Effects on School, Staff & Community

The high level of participation in continuing education among Educare West DuPage staff has had a positive impact on the school, the staff and the wider community.

For the school, continuing education has helped improve the quality of education provided to children. Staff are now better equipped to meet the needs of individual children and families, and more likely to stay up to date on the latest research and best practices in ECE.

For staff, continuing education has helped increase their knowledge and skills, leading to greater job satisfaction and career advancement, with staff more likely to be promoted to higher positions.

For the community, continuing education has helped create a more educated and professional ECE workforce, which in turn produces better outcomes for children, families and the surrounding area.

Lessons So Far: Key Takeaways

Other Educare schools and early learning & care providers can learn from Educare West DuPage’s experience with partnerships and professional development in several ways:

  • Establish partnerships with higher education institutions. Partnering with higher ed institutions can provide staff with access to high-quality, affordable continuing education opportunities.
  • Offer tuition reimbursement and other incentives for staff to pursue continuing education. This can help remove financial barriers and encourage staff participation.
  • Create a culture of lifelong learning. Encourage staff to pursue continuing education throughout their careers. This can help keep them engaged and motivated and can also help improve the quality of education provided to children.

Looking Ahead: Hopes for the Future

“My hopes for the teachers and staff at Educare West DuPage are that they will continue to grow and learn throughout their careers, they will be passionate about their work, and they will make a positive impact on the lives of children and families,” says Educare West DuPage School Director Monique Lopez.