With the mass exodus of preschool teachers and child care staff following Covid, it's harder than ever to find teachers and staff for your centers — but know this:
You’re not alone.
Cindy Lehnhoff, director of the National Child Care Association, is quoted in the article, Child-care centers struggle to staff up, saying:
“The industry lost about 350,000 child-care workers — about a third of its workforce — during the health crisis due to layoffs, and it hasn’t been able to recoup these losses.”
So what does this mean for your child care center?
In a nutshell, your ability to attract top candidates to apply for your open roles, then successfully onboard and retain those new hires is key to the future success of your child care brand. But if you’re feeling the weight of the child care staffing crunch, starting from scratch can feel overwhelming — almost debilitating. We’re here to help.
This step-by-step guide to child care and preschool hiring will help you revamp your recruitment and hiring processes so you can attract and retain top ECE teaching talent, despite the challenges.
These days, there are thousands of job opportunities competing for the attention of potential preschool teacher and child care staff candidates.
In fact, NAEYC’s July 2021 survey reported 78% of respondents identifying low wages as the main recruitment challenge because potential applicants are recognizing they can make more money elsewhere.
For some, it’s worth taking a job with less responsibility and higher pay.
Toni Dickerson is an administrator at Sussex Preschools, which operates four sites in rural parts of Delaware. Toni discusses her hiring issues in the Edsurge article, The Child Care Staffing Cris is Getting Worse.
“A substitute could make $150 to $200 a day in the district, she says,” according to the article. “Most providers can’t compete with that—Sussex Preschools teachers typically earn $80 to $90 a day, before tax. And then there are the retail and service jobs pulling teachers away. Chick-fil-A pays $15-16 an hour in Sussex County, Dickerson says, while many of her teachers make only $10.”
The article also outlines some of the many other businesses competing for ECE candidates, including:
The bottom line for ECE leaders? It’s more imperative than ever to make sure your recruitment and hiring processes are on point and up to date. And it all starts with knowing what makes your center unique.
It’s no secret leading organizations benefit from a strong company culture.
But it doesn’t happen overnight.
So take a moment, and really ask yourself: How do you think your company culture holds up to other ECE centers in your area? Are there any areas that could use a little work?
Here are five ways to check your culture:
Remember, you want your employees (both current and future) to be raving fans of your center — and for parents to notice, too.
A good company culture will attract quality ECE teachers and staff to your center like bees to honey — and it shouldn’t be overlooked as a key part of your hiring plan. But since building a strong culture does take time, here are a few things you can do to fill your open roles right now.
Who says your job description can’t have personality?
Your job description should be anything but boring, because remember — this is usually the first contact potential candidates have with your brand. (No pressure, right?)
An eye-catching job description that showcases your brand’s culture and personality while highlighting the necessary information (education requirements, experience, core values and beliefs, etc.), is the first and most crucial step to attracting quality ECE teachers and staff.
According to TalentPoint, people often worry about SEO and how their job description is going to rank on search engines — but if you’re not attracting your target audience there’s no point.
“After all, it doesn't matter if you're attracting hundreds of views if they're all from people who wouldn't be interested in the role or who aren't relevant to your business needs. That's just a waste of everyone's time (and a pretty negative first impression). On the other hand, if the ideal applicant does find your JD, you want to hook them ASAP.”
Once you have the perfect job description, spread it around like wildfire in places where potential candidates hang out.
Post the job description to:
As a busy director or owner, you may be in the habit of quickly posting your open role once an educator or member of staff gives their resignation. But, there’s a better way to recruit: year-round.
Year-round recruiting means promoting your child care brand to prospective employees as you would to prospective families looking for a great preschool for their child.
This could mean keeping resumes on file, networking with other child care providers, and letting parents know you’re always on the lookout for more quality teachers and staff for your center.
Don’t let year-round recruiting intimidate you. Something as simple as a permanent listing on your website’s career page can do wonders for your recruitment strategy.
We know there’s only so much you can do when it comes to offering competitive wages.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for childcare workers in 2020 was $25,460 per year or $12.24 per hour.
This is a problem.
As an owner or director, you’re now competing with other professional jobs that offer $15 or more an hour.
How do you combat this? You can look at competing centers to see what they’re offering their educators and staff. If possible, either match their pay or offer more.
If you’re unable to offer competitive wages, then ensure the candidates know what other benefits you can offer: paid sick leave, health insurance, professional development, growth opportunities, an amazing culture, etc.
Vernon Mason, Jr. M.Ed. has 30 years of early childhood experience, and is the Senior Vice President of Growth and Professional Development at The Nest Schools.
Vernon suggests getting creative and drawing in people outside the ECE industry by highlighting the benefits you offer that aren’t often found in other industries.
“The retail industry, the hospitality industry, restaurants, hotels, et cetera, are struggling as much if not more than early childhood with people leaving the field,” says Vernon. “Why not put an ad in the hospitality section of Indeed and focus on what we have? What do we have going for us in early childhood? We have the things that people working currently dream of: no nights, no weekends, no holidays, holiday pay. Almost all of us offer benefits.”
Vernon says as long as you can train and mentor candidates who have little to no experience in the field, you’ll be on your way to increased staffing.
The encouraging fact about early childhood educators and staff is they’re usually very passionate about being around children and helping them develop and grow. Money isn’t always the driving force.
When you offer strong benefits, aside from usual pay, you can attract caring and compassionate people for your center.
Once you’ve narrowed down your candidates it’s time for the interview process.
The interview process can be a make or break situation for you and your candidates, so it’s not something to be taken lightly.
Depending on how many applicants you have, a phone interview can help filter through qualified applicants.
Asking a quick couple of questions during a phone interview can help you screen out candidates before committing to lengthy in-person interviews.
You may ask phone interview questions such as:
Keep the phone interview short (no more than 15 minutes), and take some time to thoroughly think through the answers instead of commiting to an in-person interview at the end of the phone call.
An in-person interview is best for asking deeper questions to truly get to know your ECE teacher and staff candidates.
Almost everyone is hiring right now, including your competitors.
Your candidates have more options than ever before — both within the industry and outside of it. This means you need to make the in-person interview experience memorable from the moment your candidates walk through your center doors.
Imagine these two scenarios:
Even if both scenarios lead to a perfect in-person interview, scenario two’s candidate is keeping that first experience in their mind when decision time comes.
Preparation is key, whether that’s making sure to warmly greet the candidate at the door or having interview questions prepared.
With a standard set of interview questions, you can secure top ECE talent every time while making sure you’re being fair with all candidates.
Above all, be positive while being honest during the in-person interview.
A candidate will know if you’re sugarcoating the daily experiences at a center. All workplaces have their ups and downs. Be truthful to all candidates so they can clearly make the right decision for them.
As you know, criminal background checks are a necessity when providing the safest environment for the children in your care.
These should be conducted for every potential hire no matter what in order to protect the children and your business.
Your more seasoned candidates are already going to be expecting this step, but job candidates new to the world of child care may not. The last thing you or the candidate wants is to be caught off guard.
It’s helpful to make sure these candidates know about the background check before the interview is even a possibility. Clearly state the necessity of a clear background check in:
That way everyone is prepared, and you’ll be on the same page from the beginning.
It may be tempting to get your next hire working right away, especially when you’re already understaffed. But it’s always a good idea to see your potential new teacher or staff member in action before their official start date.
Use a trial day to see exactly how the person gets along with other employees, how they lead their one-on-one interactions with children, how their group interactions go, etc.
Seeing the potential new hire in the workplace will quickly let you know whether or not they’re a good fit for your center. Plus, it’s a great chance for potential hires to see if they enjoy the atmosphere and role.
If all goes well, then congratulations! You’re in the position every preschool owner or director wants — ready to make an offer for your next child care rockstar.
Dr. Erica Vernold Miller, Founder and CEO at Professor Patty Cake Consulting, has been coaching educators for over a decade.
Erica has extensively researched and published articles on the topic of teacher resiliency and burnout. She discovered working conditions to be just as (if not more) important as pay in determining whether or not a teacher stays in the profession.
Your working conditions matter at your center, because you don’t want high turnover rates for your ECE brand.
Investopedia reports, the turnover of an $8 per hour employee can cost a business around $3,500. Additionally, companies also spend an average of $1,866 and 47.6 hours a year training each hourly employee.
Not only does high turnover cost more money, it can:
Clearly, keeping your employees happy is crucial — but it does take time and effort.
Things like opportunities for growth, professional development, and regular recognition matter to ECE teachers and staff.
No employee wants to work in the same capacity their entire career. So, why should this be the norm for ECE teachers and child care staff?
As a director or owner, you can create a progression plan to allow teachers and staff to work towards achieving certain goals. This plan should definitely align with your core values and goals as a company.
As a result, there’s no employee guessing or assuming they’re not getting a raise or moving up in the company.
The path for growth is clearly marked, and it’s up to your teachers and staff to work towards achieving them.
As a director or owner, when you invest in your ECE teachers and staff you’re ultimately communicating your trust in them to grow.
The landscape of early childhood education is a rapidly changing environment as new discoveries are found and research is published.
This means, depending on your type of center, whether it be play-based, child-led, etc., there are always new opportunities for your ECE teachers and staff to learn about appropriate child development.
If you’re hiring quality teachers and staff, we guarantee you they’re already thinking about ways to better the children’s lives who are in their care.
But you can’t expect your ECE teachers and staff to research, learn, and brainstorm new ideas to implement in the classroom outside of work hours. This can cause burnout and employer tension fast.
Instead, offering professional development opportunities throughout the year allows you to invest in educators and the children in your care.
Some examples of early childhood professional development includes:
If educators and staff know they’re being invested in, then you’re more likely to retain them at your center.
Much like parenthood, early childhood education and care giving can feel like a ‘thankless’ job.
You don’t want your educators and staff to ever feel this way!
Here are some easy ways you can show recognition to your teachers and staff:
At the end of the long, tiring day, preschool teachers are beat. The more recognition shown for their hard work and dedication, the more likely they’ll stick around during difficult times.
When owners and directors actively listen to their ECE teachers and staff, it makes all the difference.
You can use one-on-one meetings to:
When Vernon’s role was a single site owner-director, he scheduled group quarterly meetings that created a relationship between owner-director and teachers and staff.
“Have a time quarterly that you pluck out three to five people from your program or programs and you sit around a table, take them to lunch, etc. and just have interactions with them,” suggests Vernon. “I typically don't go with an agenda, but they'll bring up what's going well, what they need more of, what they need less of, etc.”
When employees know they have a voice at work they’ll be more likely to speak up, share, or suggest changes that can better your center and the children’s lives.
Vernon also says these group meetings create accountability among teachers and staff at your center. He holds a quote by Stephen Covey, author and motivational speaker, close to his heart: “Accountability breeds responsibility.”
“Accountability without a relationship is seen as harassment,” says Vernon. “So as we are trying: to grow and nurture our people to become who we want them to be, to help our companies become who we want them to be, to help them care for kids in a manner which we want them to care for kids — it starts with a relationship with the people caring for the kids.”
Vernon finds these meetings with different sets of people each quarter imperative to ECE center’s success, especially as you grow.
It’s no longer “What can I do to make this center better?” it’s “What can we do to make this center better?”
That’s the type of team mentality you’re striving for — and the mentality that will help retain employees.
It’s no secret. Centers are struggling to hire teachers and staff, closing classrooms, and putting children on waitlists. But the more quality hires you can employ, the more families and children you can serve.
By revamping your recruitment and hiring processes, you’re taking the first most crucial step in attracting and retaining quality ECE teachers and staff who will keep your center thriving through good times and bad.
And if you’re looking for more inspiration when it comes to attracting and retaining quality teachers and child care staff, check out more of our resources below!