To support a high quality early childhood education and care workforce we must rebuild with TAFE

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01 September 2021

The Australian Children's Education and Care Quality Authority (ACECQA) predicts the sector will need an extra 30 000 educators and 9000 teachers by 2023.

The recent Federal Budget provided long awaited certainty on preschool funding, as well as changes to child care subsidies which are aimed particularly at helping more women return to work when they want to. Whilst extremely beneficial, these measures should also be supported by proper workforce planning to ensure that the sector has the workforce needed for the future.

Teachers and educators working in preschool, kindergarten and long day care services, as well as family day care services must meet the qualification requirements set under the National Quality Framework which range from Certificate III through to Diploma and Bachelor degree qualifications.

With the demand for educators in particular skyrocketing, TAFE is well placed to provide the vocational education and training needed to support and deliver the qualified personnel to meet this increasing demand right across the country.

Preferred choice

As the leading provider of vocational education in Australia, TAFE supports the delivery, training and assessment for students undertaking Certificate III, Certificate IV, Diploma and in some locations Bachelor Qualifications required for early childhood educators and teachers under the National Quality Framework. The Federal Government’s National Workforce Strategy must recognise TAFE as the solution for addressing the workforce shortage. There is strong evidence that TAFE is the preferred choice for most employers thanks to its stellar reputation in the sector.

Liz Ingram, Head Teacher of Early Childhood Education at Tamworth TAFE explains “TAFE has a sound reputation amongst Early Childhood employers. TAFE Early Childhood Teachers work diligently and collaboratively with local ECEC services in their community to ensure the provision of quality work placement opportunities for student educators. This gives TAFE students the edge and makes them the preferred choice time and again over students from private providers.”

“By studying through TAFE – students have access to the guidance of dedicated and professional teachers who are passionate and experienced in the early childhood sector and who deliver the training in a holistic and personal manner, catering to the students’ individual needs and also linking students to relevant support services throughout their learning journey”.

Job ready

ACECQA has reported that “Accessing a supply of quality, vocationally trained educators (at certificate III, certificate IV and diploma levels) was a common challenge across all provider types. Despite a number of reforms over the past five years aimed at improving quality, employers reported that many vocationally trained educators were still not ‘job ready’ and did not have realistic expectations about what working in children’s education and care entails.”

Unlike those offered by many private RTO’s, TAFE qualifications offer a clear pathway to a career in the sector as well as potential credit towards further qualifications including degrees. It has been demonstrated time and again that the quality of the early childhood and care sector is inextricably tied to the quality of training provided to those who work in it and this is what gives TAFE graduates the edge.

For Michelle Purdy, Federal TAFE President and support services worker at TasTAFE, ensuring students are job ready is more than just gaining essential industry experience. “TAFE is the full package. All TAFE students can take advantage of support services that assist students who may need extra support with their literacy and numeracy skills. We also offer dedicated support in English language for migrants who may need it. TAFE also has targeted support programs for Aboriginal students and migrants which goes a long way to making preschools and other early childhood settings more culturally safe and inclusive when they complete their qualifications.”

The support and encouragement of dedicated teachers made a real impact on one of Liz Ingram’s students who studied for a certificate II and enjoyed it so much she enrolled at the local TAFE to continue the pathway onto a Certificate III in early childhood and then a diploma in early childhood studies which quickly led to a job in the sector. After a long career in childcare she returned to TAFE to do her Cert IV in Training and Assessment and now teaches the next generation of educators at TAFE.

She is just one of the many committed students that Liz Ingram has taught over her 22 years teaching.Ingram wants to see TAFE properly funded and resourced with more highly qualified staff who are adequately supported.

“Our passion is education, that’s why we’ve become TAFE teachers. It’s very disappointing to have that passion continuously knocked out of you as a result of not being able to get funding,” Ingram says.

National Strategy

AEU Federal President Correna Haythorpe wants the Federal Government to launch a co-ordinated effort to put TAFE at the forefront of an urgently needed early childhood education workforce strategy.

“TAFE’s regional footprint would enable governments to target local needs effectively ensuring that students can study and potentially work in their local communities. Simply leaving the creation of a major pipeline of workers to the whims of a contestable market won’t - and hasn’t - addressed shortages” she says.

“But first the Federal Government need to restore the more than $3 billion funding cut from TAFE and training since 2013, including the nearly half a billion cut in 2018 and 2019 alone.”

The Early Childhood sector is clearly in need of an effective national strategy for workforce renewal. Only TAFE can provide the wrap around support that is needed to lift completion rates and only TAFE has the nationwide and regional presence to train educators where they are most needed.

It is not only the early childhood education and care sector that would benefit, childcare workers are a lynchpin of Australia’s economy. As the pandemic has proven, without access to childcare, participation for parents in the workforce is stymied. A strong early childhood education and care sector supports Australiansto work and boosts productivity. Indeed, unlocking the productivity gains that come from increasing women’s workforce participation would increase Australia’s GDP by $60 billion over the next twenty years according to KPMG.

Restoring funding to TAFE will create a triple dividend for Australia: A skilled and capable workforce to address current and future regional shortages, increased workforce participation to boost the economy and improved early learning outcomes for Australian children.

As Liz Ingram says “To continue providing students with high quality learning opportunities that give them the necessary theoretical and practical skills, it is vital that TAFE is properly funded by all governments. Governments must also recognise the pivotal role of Early Childhood Education as a most vital influence on a child’s formative years. Such recognition must influence and shape future policies that grow a skilled Early Childhood Educator workforce, with sufficient educators to meet the demand.”

This article was originally published in The Australian TAFE Teacher, Winter 2021