Factors influencing early childhood educators' employment decisions

Year: 2012

Author: Elliott, Alison

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


As the recent Productivity Commission (2011) report highlighted, there are acute shortages of qualified early childhood educators in Australia. This will create challenges in building early childhood workforce capacity, meeting new regulatory requirements around staffing levels and most importantly, has the potential to negatively affect the quality of early education provision for young children. Over two decades now, the early childhood sector has changed dramatically from largely community based provision to a market driven, private-for-profit sector. While many educators are uneasy or critical about this shift to private-for-profit early childhood centres, those who would normally be vocal, even outraged about private-for-profit schooling are largely silent about the political and market shifts in the early childhood sector. Yet, it would seem that this shifting orientation may in itself contribute to graduates' reluctance to work in early childhood services. This paper draws on conversations with prospective early childhood educators about factors that influence their thinking and planning around decisions to study early childhood education and care, employment aspirations and likely employment decisions and pathways in the early childhood sector and beyond. In particular, it identifies factors that seem to shape decisions to work in child care and especially private-for-profit child care, as opposed to community based preschools and other early childhood services including working conditions, salary and job status, career aspirations and home-work life balance. The paper also reports on some factors influencing educators' perceptions about working in remote or other "hard to staff" early childhood services and the characteristics of these work and living environments that serve to attract and retain educators. Finally, the paper highlights some strategies for making teacher education more responsive to students' changing circumstances, especially their need to work to support themselves and their families. As early childhood education embraces the new regulatory framework to improve educational outcomes for children we need a full complement of qualified educators to provide quality learning environments for each child. The days of girls in "twin-sets and pearls" are long gone. Simply amplifying the rhetoric about the importance of early childhood education and hoping it will draw women to the sector is not enough. Neither are initiatives such as increased university "places", and HECS/HELP rebates likely to work in the long term. There are seismic shifts in young people's thinking about work, careers and lifestyles. We need to better understand the thinking behind their decisions around where and what they want to study, where they choose to work and their career aspirations and expected pathways.