By Mary Rodger, Marketing Manager
Joined by Sarah McKenzie, the training and quality director at Childbase, Carolyn Silberfeld, the chair/director of the Early Years Childhood Studies Degree Network, and Susanna Kalitowski, the policy and research manager at PACEY, Voice’s own Deborah Lawson and Nursery World’s deputy editor, Ruth Thompson, led this discussion close to everyone’s heart.
Underpinning the whole discussion was the principle that Sarah introduced in her opening presentation – an investment in knowledge always pays the best interest. The debate sought to explore how such investments could help business owners and sector leaders achieve two goals: increase their recruitment and retention of a quality workforce whilst also helping to improve the service they offer and thus potentially improve their business and their retention of customers.
However, at no point throughout the debate could the discussion wander far from the elephant in the room – funding! But as Sarah was quick to point out, the sector can’t wait for the DfE to catch up; it has to work together to try and do what it can to breach the gap before the crisis worsens.
Sarah offered the audience an insight into the Childbase partnership’s approach to CPD and the results they had experienced in her inspiring presentation. An approach shaped by the partnership’s recognition that there is always a training gap in their sector, be that the gap between what staff want and what they can physically offer, the gap between what staff are receiving and what they believe they need, or the gap between the level of skill and knowledge staff arrive with and the level employers aspire their staff to have in order to deliver a quality service.
This continuing need and the diversity of their staff has resulted in a wide range of training approaches, from face-to-face learning opportunities, to blended and in-workplace learning. Experience-led training also plays a role in their approach, with staff offered the chance to shadow colleagues, and to job swap or visit other venues, be those Childbase centres or their competitors. These opportunities allow them to gain real, tangible understanding that they can learn from and hopefully, not only implement themselves, but build on in their own setting.
Their dedication to, and investment in, training is key to their business as they understand the tangible benefits it brings, thanks to the well-documented link between the continued professional development of staff and the attainment of the children in their care. It’s that long-term outlook that has helped them to improve their service, as well as the overall sense of achievement and enthusiasm in their team.
As the session turned to the audience for a question and answer session, the focus was clear. Everyone agreed on the value of continued development of their staff, but they first wanted to address the question of whether the incoming training for the various qualification routes was fit for purpose.
Many agreed that their main training focus had, for some time, been consumed with the need to upskill those arriving in their workforce. They challenged whether the focus and structure of qualifications had not over time lost sight of what was really important – basic skills and practical experience. A situation they all agreed would get worse under the proposed outline for the new T Levels.
The panel agreed, the nature of training within the sector has changed enormously in recent decades and a broader curriculum in schools that focused more on skills and less on exam results could help to alleviate this skills gap, but so could a change in attitude that often points students with lower academic achievements towards a career in childcare.
Clearly the topic of recruitment and retention of a quality workforce in early years is not one that can be solved in a single debate, and will take the joint efforts of the whole sector to improve and resolve, but we at Voice, along with our colleagues on the panel at this recent debate, are dedicated to helping work towards that goal.
We want to see a future where early years education is given the same respect and attention as all other levels. Where quality applicants are abundant and offered the same opportunities for progression, development and remuneration as their colleagues in schools, colleagues and universities. That is why we will continue to engage in these debates and work with our members and our partners to try and better understand and tackle the hurdles the sector faces today.
"...panellist Deborah Lawson, general secretary of Voice.
‘Training is an investment, not a cost,’ she said. ‘In the absence of an early years pay scale, CPD for retention purposes is crucial. Retaining that joy and pleasure in the work is essential. Training is the way to show staff they are valued.
‘Having been in early years myself for 30 years, I understand there is a reliance on the goodwill of proprietors to address training needs, but the sector needs to be pushing for more than that.’"