Sunday 13 October 2019

Childcare jobs go unfilled as qualified staff emigrate

94% of childcare workers have level five qualifications - but are leaving their jobs

Maria Herlihy

Staff in the childcare sector are becoming more qualified but yet there are problems in finding staff to fill vacancies as staff are going off  into other sectors or teaching and emigrating to work in the same sectors abroad.

North Cork TD Seán Sherlock sought support for early childhood workers and educators across North Cork this week in the Dáil as the Labour Party moved their motion to guarantee a fair start for every child.

"The issue of qualifications is important," said Deputy Sherlock. He outlined that staff in the sector are becoming more qualified with 94% having level five qualifications or higher.

"The figure was 92% in 2016-2017 and 88% the year previously. For level six qualifications the figure is 65%. It was 63% last year and 56% in 2015-2016. 

He said: "We are seeing a gradual rise in the level of educational attainment. Despite this, 57%, or 2,256 services, report having problems in finding suitably qualified staff to fill vacancies. That figure has increased by 10% since last year. Some of the figures I am quoting are taken directly from the report. The Minister has acknowledged that skilled and highly qualified staff are a vital component of childcare provision. " 

It was his view that what is needed is a commitment from Government, or at least a greater degree of energy from Government to address the issue of the retention rates within the sector. 

"What we are clearly seeing from the evidence of campaigns like the Big Start campaign by SIPTU, for example, is that the rate of attrition from the sector is too high. There is no formal sectoral employment order. It is increasingly difficult to organise workers within the sector. It is quite challenging because of the disparate nature of the sector," he said. 

Deputy Sherlock felt if this was put in a  formal setting then the retention rates could be addressed as well as recognising the qualifications of workers and prevent the high rate of attrition. 

"People are going off to other sectors to become special needs assistants or teachers, or even emigrating and working in the same sector abroad," he said.  He believes that the Government should "come to the table or at least be more proactive in recognising the need". 

Deputy Sherlock also felt that there is no point in increasing the budget line, although it is necessary, if the rate of attrition of staff is increasing year on year.  

However, he acknowledged the work of the Big Start campaign. 

"Those of us across the political divide have given our support to the campaign.  We can start that process with the sectoral employment order. That would address issues like pay, pensions and sick pay.  It would build a strong coherent voice for the sector," he said.