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Early years recruitment: Solutions to ease the staffing crisis

14 min of reading
28 October 2022
Early years recruitment - cover image

Recruitment in the Early Years is at an all-time low as nurseries are struggling to fill vacancies for qualified and childcare apprentice positions. Some EYFS settings are having to reduce operating hours and close baby rooms due to not being able to meet the statutorily required ratio for child safety. So, what is the answer? What are we missing when trying to recruit and retain our quality nursery staff?

In this article, we unpick all of the important aspects to consider when filling your nursery’s vacancies, plus share solutions for your nursery to try to keep quality team members happy and thriving in the Early Years sector.

In this article you will find:

    Why childcare is not the first choice for employment

    Working with children is a vocation, it is not for the faint-hearted or work-shy. The childcare sector is unique: there are deadlines, pressures, and high expectations just like any other job, but your priority customers are opinionated, loud and under the age of 5… No work day is the same and the rewards possible are immeasurable. So, why can’t we fill the Early Years practitioner and educator positions? There are several reasons for the drought of applications to work in Early Years settings, let’s explore them.

    Reasons for the drought of EYFS applications

    Recruitment process

    Lack of training

    The stress of the job

    Unfair prejudice

    Low pay

    Poor staff treatment

    How to source awesome EYFS nursery staff (and keep them)

    As owners and managers of a childcare provider, you are responsible for hiring quality staff with the potential to add value and worth to your nursery. The same job advert 2-3 years ago would have attracted 10 times the interest than in current times.

    Have our settings become less desirable or have the wants and needs of the applicants changed? To source quality staff and keep them, the recruitment process requires scrutiny.

    Ultimate guide on How to source awesome nursery staff (and keep them)

    Find your nursery's unique challenges for recruiting and retaining staff.

    Think creatively when sourcing applicants, and keep hold of the gold dust team members you have

    How to source awesome nursery staff (and keep them)

    Many newly qualified or training Early Years practitioners are unsure of the statutory requirements linked to qualifications. Confusion surrounding who can and can’t operate as a Level 3 has thrown nurseries into a ratio crisis, with managers having to step in to overcome staff shortages. Remove any assumptions when publishing a job advert, explain clearly on your advert the qualifications needed to apply for the position or invite the interested person to contact the nursery directly to determine if they do meet the criteria.

    By encouraging those who are unsure if they meet the requirements to contact the nursery, you may be able to hook interested applicants into the training process. Take them on as a Level 2 Early Years practitioner with the projected plan for Childcare Level 3 status, and pay once qualified.

    Your process for securing applications should be straightforward and tailored to the audience you are aiming to encourage interest from. Use creative channels to reach out to the apprenticeship demographic, thinking outside the usual or local council websites for visibility. We go into more detail on addressing your nursery staffing issues by hiring the right people, share these with your leadership team to analyse where your current process is falling down.

    How can I make my nursery staff less stressed?

    Ways to make your nursery staff less stressed

    Reduce paperwork expectations in EYFS

    Support staff with distressed and upset parents

    Champion your nursery staff's mental health

    Provide support with ratio numbers

    Reduce paperwork expectations in EYFS

    Stress of the job can be a key reason for experienced staff to leave the Early Years profession. Childcare and education are a field with high accountability. It can mean deadlines and expectations are challenging and inflexible to make sure the children make a good rate of progress and development in their first years of education.

    Monitoring, observing and assessing children’s development across all areas of the EYFS curriculum are essential parts of your team’s day. They are told to monitor and record information closely, yet remain available and present when interacting with the children. Add in completing paperwork within the working day, and this can be a recipe for stressed nursery staff. Choosing to use a nursery software that can slice paperwork in half is a solution to explore. Recording key moments for all staff to access instantly can make their lives much easier.

    Support EYFS staff with distressed and upset parents

    Interactions with parents and carers can be a rewarding part of the job, but it can also be a source of worry and anxiety for EYFS team members. How your provision manages dealing with upset and angry parents can significantly impact the likelihood of staff retention. If staff have confidence that the leadership team will support effective conflict resolution with parents, they can be more likely to stay within a setting rather than looking elsewhere.

    Explore ways to support nursery staff’s mental health

    You know your team well: their families, interests and favourite break-time snacks. Set your team’s mental health as a priority, and be proactive to maintain good wellbeing throughout your setting. Ensuring your policies and procedures are effective and simple can go a long way in helping to reduce your EYFS team’s feelings of stress and pressure. Look after your staff’s overall wellbeing by exploring ways to support nursery staff mental health at childcare settings.

    Provide support with ratio numbers

    Every member of your nursery team will be busy throughout the day, is it not a job with large pockets of downtime. Comfort breaks for your team can be a small yet effective way of making them feel valued and looked after. Regularly pop into each room in your nursery to ask staff if they need a toilet or comfort break without dropping below ratio requirements.

    Should I increase my EYFS apprentices’ wages?

    The apprenticeship wage is significantly below National Minimum Wage (NMW), and with the cost of living rocketing, the prospect of earning £4.81 per hour can be off-putting when considering a career in childcare. Competing against roles with less accountability, better flexibility with working hours, and minimal training requirements can make childcare seem undesirable to school-leavers and those wanting to retrain. Some nursery settings have begun to increase the rate of pay for their Level 2 and Level 3 childcare apprentices in a bid to tackle the EYFS recruitment crisis.

    Potential pay progression and career pathways into Early Years education should be shared with your apprenticeships during their mentoring meetings. Highlight their interests and support them to develop in these areas through funded training programmes and the use of their off-the-job hours.

    What training should my EYFS staff receive?

    Alongside the confusion surrounding what EYFS staff are qualified for, the levels of training and Continuing Professional Development (CPD) offered for nursery staff are dependent on the setting they work in. Build a reputation and brand for your nursery by investing in your staff to reach their potential. Encourage your childcare staff to remain at your setting because they have personal and professional satisfaction of learning skills that can help progress their careers. Ultimately, there are 8 key soft skills your nursery practitioners need, you can build on these to suit the individual needs of your team members.

    Your setting’s CPD calendar can be created at the beginning of the academic year (September), focusing ahead on the areas of development you can strengthen through quality CPD sessions. These sessions do not have to cost money, they can be delivered by your leadership team, utilise free, quality online training courses for EYFS or run by another staff member with expertise in an area (EYFS SENDCo). Explore examples of outstanding CPD journeys, so that you can tailor yours to the needs of your pupils and staff experience levels.

    Work closely with your apprentices to support their Level 2 and Level 3 childcare mentors to make the most of their off-the-job hours. These hours can be used to create strong, supportive links with other local educational settings. By upskilling your apprentices, not only will your existing team be able to benefit from their knowledge, it also increases the apprentice’s confidence in sharing expertise with their team.

    One of the most important personal skills a nursery practitioner can have is resilience. By approaching challenging interactions and situations with a reflective outlook, your nursery team can make improvements in their practice for the future. Therefore, it is essential to build opportunities for scenario discussions and role play into your staff meetings to effectively develop staff’s reflective practice skills.

    How to increase male nursery practitioners' applications in EYFS

    Nursery practitioners are predominantly female; the EYFS field has a significant underrepresentation of males in the workplace. Some nursery settings unintentionally encourage gender stereotyping and sexism in the early years, through toys, play and language used. With all nursery settings experiencing a drought in interest in applications to work for them, reducing the pool even further through sexist processes and gender-stereotyped adverts cannot be afforded.

    Is my nursery marketing gender-specific?

    Look at the colours, images and logo chosen for your nursery branding, are they designed with a stereotypical female in mind? Think carefully about the representation of images used to market your nursery and aim for it to be inclusive. Using only females in illustrations and images can build an incorrect image of what your nursery staff must look like.

    MITEY UK and how it can help with Early Years recruitment

    You and your leadership team will need to be creative when encouraging more males to apply for the positions in your nursery. You can use the MITEY UK methods to increase male practitioner interest as well as increase community visibility in sixth-form colleges and careers fairs.

    What makes nursery staff leave the sector?

    Recently we have seen a number of childcare providers close, over 23% of those asked have blamed Covid recovery as the main reason for their closure. Struggling to meet the ratios needed to support the children effectively due to insufficient staff including covering absences.

    The pandemic has changed our way of working, parents are now more involved than ever with nursery communications after inviting the home into the nursery via online communication platforms. There has also been an explosion of remote working roles, staff are moving away from nursery employment to work in more flexible positions, often to meet the needs of their own families.

    Why mental health is so important for educators

    Teaching and childcare are stressful fields to work in. A day plan can turn on its head in seconds and adaptability and quick thinking are essential skills. Owners and managers need to recognise the stresses that come from the working day, discuss with your team the main pain points and work tirelessly to reduce the factors that can negatively impact mental health.

    What makes a good nursery manager in EYFS settings?

    Having a strong nursery manager can make all the difference to staff wellbeing. Relationships between managers and staff can define the working culture and environment in a setting and cannot be underestimated. “A good leader does not stand at the front; they lead from the centre.” When it comes down to what makes a good nursery manager, you should be approachable yet professional with your team. Encourage an open door policy but stay consistent with the professional boundaries to allow you to make objective decisions for the benefit of the nursery.

    Learn how to keep your nursery team happy

    Reduce laborious paperwork

    Limit repetitive administrative tasks

    Avoid handwritten recording systems

    Actively support ratios and breaks

    Take the time to get to know your staff and ask questions about their family and interests. By taking a genuine interest in your staff it will build mutual respect and set strong foundations for managing challenging situations.

    Let’s take performance management as an example, giving team members targets to work towards can often be taken as a form of criticism. If a solid foundation of genuine interest is there, the team members are aware the targets are only for their development, not an unknown ulterior motive. Take into consideration how you recognise and celebrate your staff currently, by exploring ways to keep your nursery team happy. A little can go a long way.

    The childcare sector is facing significant challenges with recruitment. Now we must try to celebrate how wonderful the EYFS field is and enthuse the newest generation of Early Years practitioners to join your team for development, enjoyment and steps towards a fulfilling career in childcare.

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