Early years staff struggle to meet the demands of the job, survey reveals

Karen Faux
Tuesday, January 22, 2019

New research from specialist data company Ceeda flags up the many challenges facing the sector including a lack of important skills required to meet the needs of today’s children.

Ceeda’s Early Years Sector Skills Survey highlights the breadth of challenges currently facing childcare providers, including the negative impact that inadequate skills are having on inclusion and the overall quality of provision.

More than one in two settings report skills gaps in their existing workforce (55 per cent) compared to 13 per cent of employers across the board. An estimated 35,600 early years staff (11 per cent) have skills gaps, compared to four per cent across all work sectors. Forty two per cent of respondents said this is making it harder to maintain quality standards for all children.

The top skills gaps identified by at least one in four settings across the sector were: problem solving (31 per cent), interest and enthusiasm for the job role (26 per cent), resilience and self confidence (25 per cent) and listening and verbal communication (24 per cent). Gaps in team working (21 per cent) and written English (18 per cent) were also notable.

The report suggests that this can be partly attributed to job roles becoming more complex, with children presenting greater needs. More than one in three settings (36 per cent) cited this as a reason for the skills gaps they were encountering among their teams.

Statistics prove the funding gap

Recruitment woes jeopardise 30-hour offer

Recruitment crisis eases slightly
While the number of settings recruiting staff in 2018 was less than in 2017, it is still considerably higher than the wider labour market, with one in three settings currently seeking staff for an estimated 14,300 vacancies.

Providers report it is still hard to fill positions with the right staff. One in every four childcare providers have hard-to-fill vacancies (24 per cent) compared to eight per cent for all employers. More than half of respondents say this is creating a stressful working environment and pushing up recruitment and payroll costs.

While the average staff turnover rate is 15 per cent, more than one in 10 providers have rates of 26 per cent or higher. Low pay is blamed for many staff departures.

Jo Verrill, author of the study and Ceeda managing director, said – ‘the high proportion of employers (26 per cent) losing staff because they’ve found jobs closer to home suggests an unwillingness to travel, which is likely to be related to pay. The implication is that providers are confined to fishing from a relatively small geographic pool.’

She added, ‘The early years workforce is predominantly female and feedback flagged challenges in retaining staff after maternity leave, linked to low pay rates and the high cost of childcare. Along with other reasons, this contributed to the nine per cent of employers who had lost staff because they decided to take a career break.’

Growing workforce
The number of individuals working in the sector has increased from an estimated 299,000 in 2017 to 319,000 in 2018.

On a positive note, the male workforce is gradually inching up; men currently make up 4 per cent of directly employed staff, an increase on the Department for Education estimate of 2 per cent in 2013, and 5 per cent according to Ceeda, in 2017.

Following the re-instatement of functional skills as acceptable equivalents to GCSE English and maths, the proportion of staff qualified to Level 3 or above has increased from 71 per cent in 2017 to 76 per cent in 2018. Latest official statistics show vocational awards at all levels increased year-on by 11 per cent in 2018.

More than four fifths of providers have arranged off-the-job training for their staff in the last 12 months and 75 per cent have arranged on-the-job training. These rates are higher than for employers generally (48 per cent and 53 per cent respectively), reflecting the statutory requirements of the sector.

Sector spend on training in the last 12 months ranged from nil to £10,800 with an average setting spend of £600 (excluding staff cover and expenses). Forecast spend in the next 12 months is estimated at an average £525 per settings. These modest budgets could limit staff development in areas beyond statutory requirements.

The cost to children
Stella Ziolkowski, NDNA’s Director of Quality and Training, underlined the extent to which the survey findings are linked to under-investment in the sector.

She said: ‘The fact that over half of all employers have identified skills gaps in their staff and yet spending on training is predicted to fall 12.5 per cent shows just how underfunding impacts directly on the workforce. This has a knock-on effect on other staff in nurseries, through increased workloads, but also the children in their care.

‘Children form strong bonds with staff and with some nurseries seeing turnover rates above 25 per cent this impacts on continuity of care which is fundamental to their development. 

‘The main reason staff give for leaving is low pay.  We know our members want to be able to offer better pay, conditions and benefits but chronic underfunding from the Government is threatening businesses and making this impossible. With no increase in funding rates to account for inflation and minimum wage rises, the Government is putting more pressure on the workforce and employers when what is needed is more investment and support.’

The About Early Years Sector Skills Survey, part of Ceeda’s About early years programme, is based on research with 557 childcare providers employing 8,511 staff. Findings have been weighted and grossed to reflect the profile of the Ofsted Early Years Register. Read the full survey here


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