What’s Your Early Years Workforce Migration Strategy?

We are used to the concept of workforce recruitment and retention strategies, but are you ready, willing and able to lead a migration strategy?

A migration strategy would support the workforce with their individual challenges arising from COVID-19 and do whatever possible to support them to stay in the sector, move to new or different roles and help the local market respond to the changing needs of children and families.  For now, and in the medium- and long-term futures.

COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on our sector.  Families’ economic and social behaviours have changed over the past months, they continue to change now, and they will evolve further in the following weeks, months, and perhaps years.

Guidance and lockdown required settings to adhere to certain actions and manage their businesses differently.  As a result, providers have either closed and remained so, or closed and reopened, are preparing to open again in the autumn, or have remained open throughout.

Opening has been a combination of different types.  Through the early days of lockdown, partial opening catered for the children of keyworkers and vulnerable children.  Around 25% of settings were open and were used by around 10% of children that usually attended.  We noticed examples of how staff moved from closed settings to open ones to fill capacity and skills gaps, such as holding Paediatric First Aid.

Since then, and particularly after 1 June 2020, settings have gradually reopened places, and families have presented themselves at settings to use their funded and paid-for places.  Local lockdowns have become a reality and may affect other areas.  Wider reopening plans and the ambition to open all schools and settings for the beginning of autumn term in September 2020, offer a renewed focus and a new challenge for all.

The workforce has continued to be supported by early years funding being paid in full so far, and for the autumn term, and/or the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS or ‘furloughing’).  Finances are not easy, quite the opposite.  The phased return of staff into settings as demand increases and the CJRS ends (31 October 2020) will require a whole range of different business decisions and choices.  These will be difficult and dramatic for some.  This will include remodelling the workforce, some teams will reduce, some will go, some will increase.  All will need to change.

The risk to the sector is that valuable trained, qualified and experienced members of the workforce will leave their settings.  A migration strategy would look at ways in which individuals could be supported to stay in the sector.  How we can help with their career thinking, job choices, role maintenance, professional development and progression, or job switches to other parts of the early years sector.  For example, how many of the local workforce could move from group provision and into childminding or vice versa.  Will there be workers moving into or out of provision based in or run by a school?

Like early years settings and schools, need and demand from families has changed.  You may have noticed the DWP list getting bigger as Universal Credit claims balloon, and unemployment increases.  You may have noticed demand for 30 hours staying the same or changing, up or down, as family employment patterns are transformed.  It might be too early yet.  These dynamics will also drive provider and delivery model change through autumn and beyond.

The proportion of the different types of places in settings will shift around (0-2, 2, 3-4 whether funded or paid for).  Parents are taking a second look at their previous childcare use and developing new preferences for the future.  Are they looking at group provision rather than childminding or childminding to replace group provision?  There may also be a trend towards single setting use – stimulated by guidance, by schools or by family predilections.  There are big implications for out of school here this is something to keep on top of.  Each setting will need to look at their model, the offer and take-up and ensure staff meet these requirements.  With increases in two-year-old eligibility, a good example would be settings needing staff with experience of working with two-year-olds.  This could be a temporary or a long-term measure.  Whatever, it will benefit from a migration strategy.

One huge issue is the availability of the workforce.  We cannot have provision without the workforce.  They themselves are not immune to the economic, employment and social changes affecting the entire population.

Some of the workforce will not want to return.  Or their ability to work will have changed.  Their preferences for how they work, when they work, and what they want to do are shifting as well.  Some will not want to return after being furloughed.  These experiences will prompt retirements and career changes.  That is natural and to be expected.

The workforce have concerns about their own health and safety, their physical and mental wellbeing, and that of their households and extended families.  Working safely in a setting or school is one thing but returning home to their own family is a different consideration.

There are personal and professional preferences as to how PPE should or could be used, this can cause tension and anxiety.  For childminders, accepting people into their own home presents new risks.  They may want their homes back.  In contrast, workers currently working in group provision might decide they would prefer to work with smaller numbers of children in their homes.  Their own or their family’s employment and economic status could be impacted.  Other jobs or that of their partner’s could have increased, decreased or disappeared.

With phased reopening, new models of delivery, local lockdowns, and/or second waves, the workforce may struggle to reconcile work with their own school and childcare arrangements.  Practical availability and the sums might just not add up, resulting in a staff member leaving a setting and looking elsewhere.  We need to catch as many as we can at this moment.

At key times of change people decide to leave.  They may just feel they have done enough, or all they can, in the sector, in their role, or in their setting.  They may decide to move away from childminding after a few years as their children have grown.  Some may choose the option of redundancy.

We could easily lose people that we cannot afford to lose.  So what can we do about it?  How can you keep the workforce in the early years sector?  What actions can be taken to support them before they stay or they are lost temporarily and not forever?  Here are a few considerations for what could be in an EY workforce migration strategy:

  1. Help settings manage and take their workforce decisions during reopening, restructuring and in managing furlough return.
  2. Offer recruitment and retention training for setting leaders, that promotes employment flexibility, sustainability and scalability.
  3. Promote new models of delivery and show settings how to break out of traditional ways of working, creating new types of employment in the process.
  4. Help schools to change in ways that are sensitive to the local childcare market.  So they are aware of what is happening in the childcare market (families and providers), they change their models as required, they do so with consideration to the local PVI and use their local position properly, and foster effective local ‘business relationships in the sector’.
  5. Share regular information about demand, need and preference changes in the local market so all business leaders understand what is happening to that and its effect on eligibility for two-year-olds, universal and 30 hours funding.
  6. Provide a confidential and impartial career advice service for individuals working in the sector and at risk of leaving. With the aim of keeping them if at all possible, or helping them with career barriers, and short- to long-term development.
  7. Be able to broker employment opportunities. Can you have a jobs board somewhere online?  Can people post what they want or what they have to offer?  How can you facilitate the sharing of information and connect practitioners to providers?  Like speed dating for work.
  8. Develop networks or clusters of employment between settings, supporting more of the workforce to work safely across different settings, perhaps in hubs.
  9. Support with fast-tracked registration changes with Ofsted so settings can change or open-up nimbly before it is too late.
  10. Promote childminder recruitment and registration so numbers continue to be stable or grow in response to actual demand types and locations. Support group practitioners to transition into childminding and vice versa.

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