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Childcare apprenticeships: how to tackle the recruitment crisis

7 min of reading
15 July 2022

It may be an understatement to say that Early Years apprentices are in high demand, as nursery settings nationwide are struggling to recruit and retain Level 2 and Level 3 professionals to join their team. This raises challenges for meeting ratios and poses concerns for the future of childcare recruitment.

This article explores the potential reasons why there is such a shortage of Early Years apprentices, plus we highlight potential strategies your nursery setting can adopt to try to generate interest in the vocation of childcare.

What to find in this article:

What current challenges are nurseries facing right now?

The key challenges nurseries face currently surround staffing, which goes hand in hand with limited funding. The lack of apprentices coming up the ranks into childcare is concerningly low, with settings struggling to meet ratios due to the requirements for 50% of staff to hold a Level 2 qualification or higher.

Some nurseries are resorting to poaching other qualified staff members from other settings. In an industry where few people outside of the profession understand the challenges of working in childcare, having supportive neighbouring provisions is essential for professional relationships.

Why is there a shortage of apprentices in the Early Years?

Apprenticeships form a well-respected route into almost every discipline of career pursuit, as training on the job is an effective way of ‘getting in to go far.’ There are a number of reasons why there aren’t enough apprentices in childcare currently, ranging from pay to promotion. Let’s explore this further:

Rate of pay

Think of all of the duties and responsibilities involved in your standard day in a nursery; it is both demanding and rewarding in equal measure. Your apprenticeships are involved in the same responsibilities to care, nurture and teach the children in your settings. In addition to this, they are completing assignments and undertaking training- whilst being paid £4.81 an hour!

If we compare this wage to National Minimum Wage (NMW for those 23 and over) of £9.50, there is a large daily rate difference especially when alternative NMW positions your apprentices could choose would pay significantly more, and with less responsibility.

Key skills requirements

From September 2019, following a change to qualification requirements, all Level 2 and Level 3 apprentices must achieve or prove their key Maths and English skills. This is a daunting prospect for many, and subsequently can act as a deterrent for those with low self-confidence or academic insecurities. Although most training providers do offer additional support in passing these tests, there is no pass guarantee.

This creates a risk that all the hard work and effort of completing the apprenticeship or advanced apprenticeship could result in not achieving the qualification. The certification to prove the required level of skills in Maths and English are often GCSE certificates. If your apprentice cannot find their certificates, there is a fee to pay to request a copy. On top of this, the process of requesting these results can be confusing and although a simple request, can be a barrier.

Time for training

Even though there is a requirement for apprentices to have 20% of their hours allocated for training and developing the necessary skills, knowledge, and behaviours to succeed in their apprenticeships, the training programmes are designed to cover a large amount of content in a short time. This intense learning schedule with the associated training involved can be a concern for those who are considering entering the profession. Many staff in childcare have their own families, and the additional time needed to study can often be too much for those on a tight schedule, especially when NMW roles can be less fulfilling but more straightforward at times.

Unaware of progression routes

There can be some confusion surrounding the potential career progression available post childcare apprenticeship Level 2. Many team members beginning at the entry apprenticeship level are unaware of the potential to achieve an undergraduate degree through the profession and often in the same setting. Many school-leavers have dreams of earning a degree and personal circumstances can become a barrier to achieving this. For more information on the pathway into the Early Years (from levels 2 to 6) see here.

Lack of positive promotion

Media can often highlight the most negative aspects of a career, with a significant lack of positive messages surrounding Early Years apprenticeships. There are few vocations and careers where your reason for working loves you back. It is a magical profession, not suited to all, requiring patience, enthusiasm, empathy and resilience.

It include opportunities for an active day, flexibility of shift timings, understanding of family life, as well as the privilege of often being the first non-family adult to build lasting relationships with the young children you support. Limited interactions with secondary schools and colleges due to Covid restrictions often contribute to the poor representation for childcare at career fairs. Statistics show an increase in the number of students staying to complete Key Stage 5 in favour of undertaking apprenticeships aged 16.

What nurseries are doing to help with the recruitment crisis

With decreasing levels of interest in pursuing a career in childcare, nurseries are now taking innovative action to try to entice those who would shine within the field a chance to join their team. Let’s look at a few of the current popular ideas:

Increasing apprentices’ wages

Due to the stagnation of the amount of funding per child nurseries receive from the government, nursery budgets are tight. This is where the introduction of apprentices can be extremely beneficial for building excellent team members on a budget. However, with the increase in living costs, a handful of nurseries (if they are able to) are considering paying their apprentices NMW for the duration of their training course. In an ideal world, all settings could afford to pay apprentices more for the important role they play, but this increase in pay does raise the concern for smaller nurseries, which are unable to afford to increased the wages.

Promotion, promotion, promotion

Online advertisements are a great way to get in front of your target audience, with over 45 million active social media users in the UK. Nurseries are taking to social media platforms to promote their setting as an employer as well as highlighting the potential routes within the field.

Sharing useful articles with your target apprentices in mind can increase understanding of potential within childcare, and quash perceived barriers; Maths and English tests, no time off duties for study, poor working hours. Some nurseries are using their network of families to increase reach by offering a coffee morning for any who are considering an apprentice in the Early Years. By meeting face-to-face (following safe covid practices) and offering them opportunities to ask questions, this could spark enthusiasm to join.

Carefully choosing a training provider

Not all providers are born equal, some offer more academic support than others. Nurseries are beginning to research more and more the levels of support their apprentices will receive when undertaking their training. It is a demanding course and the additional pressure to pass both Maths and English key skills tests by the end of the course can be off-putting. Make sure to ask your training provider of choice about the levels and methods of support they offer your newest team members.

Next steps

It can often be assumed that your extended network (friends and family of your clients) are aware of the different roles that make up a nursery setting. Take to social media to explain some of your key staff members, their roles and journeys to their success. Recruitment is a whole team drive, so why not share this article with your team so you can recruit with full steam ahead!

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