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Jan 30, 2024

The Workforce Behind the Workforce

Sponsored Content provided by Jane Morrow - Executive Director, Smart Start of New Hanover County

The phrase “the workforce behind the workforce” referring to early educators became popular during the height of the Covid 19 shutdown when employers and the community at large were suddenly realizing all-together that parents couldn’t work if their young children did not have a safe, supportive, and enriching place to learn and grow while they, the parents, were on the job.  It became clear that early childhood educators were essential workers much like health care professionals, delivery personnel, and food and grocery workers.
Parents have always known this.  If there is a glitch in their childcare, there is an impact on their ability to work or work productively.  As childcare programs shut down and teachers took other jobs, the community as a whole was experiencing this glitch all at the same time.  
What came out of the community-wide experience was a closer look at the early education system and the realization that it is a system under stress.  Today there remain lingering staffing shortfalls even as the overall economy is returning to pre-pandemic levels.  Many educators found other jobs that paid more, offered benefits, and were less physically and emotionally draining.  Some were tired that their specialized education, skills and knowledge were unacknowledged and some lost their jobs when the businesses they worked for shut down permanently.  The US Labor Bureau in August of 2022 noted that 103% of private sector jobs lost during the pandemic have returned but only 76% of early educator positions have been recovered.  
As childcare programs hire new staff, they have nonetheless lost years of experience, years of education and years of skills.  It takes a while for someone to settle into a new career, therefore there is more staff turnover among employees who have worked in an industry for only a few years.  This means that we should expect to continue to see higher than average turnover in childcare, an industry that has historically faced high turnover.
In their blog, the NC Department of Commerce says, “Although raising wages in childcare may seem like a simple remedy, the labor-intensive childcare service industry often operates on thin margins, making wage increases financially unfeasible in most cases without decreasing affordability for families.”  
The median annual wage for early educators in North Carolina in 2021 was only $27,600, almost $20,000 less than that of public-school teachers who earned an average of $46,400 across NC.  Although educational requirements for early educators are not as high as those for public school teachers, they have many similar job duties including lesson planning, classroom management, and promoting learning across multiple developmental domains. For the most part, early educators also do this with less support.  In the 2021-22 school year New Hanover County has 2,174 PK-12 teachers and instructional aides and 1,075 other staff for about a 2:1 teacher : support ratio.  In the fall of 2023, the ratio of teachers to support staff in non-public school licensed childcare was 5.6:1.  
Our community’s current and future workforce needs a strong childcare workforce that is well-qualified, well-compensated, and well-supported.
Smart Start of New Hanover County is our local hub for early childhood – the first 2,000 days of a child’s life.  We work with early educators to enhance quality, we assist with the cost of childcare by supporting the local childcare subsidy program, and we work with families to strengthen their ability to support their children’s development. Connect with us to learn more about why early childhood matters, why it is important for your business both today and in the future, and to learn how you can advocate for investment in the early years.

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