Wages a big factor in early childhood educator shortage

“There's such a shortage not just here in Trail, but everywhere." - Lynn Proulx

The government’s six-figure incentive to bring more childcare workers to the table is a start, says a local 30-year childcare veteran.

But $1 million in bursaries for early childhood educator (ECE) training does not address the reason there’s too few qualified ECEs across the province.

“It’s because people are not really going into early childhood education because of the wages,” says Lynn Proulx, from East Trail’s Sunshine Children’s Centre. “There’s such a shortage not just here in Trail, but everywhere. Wages are a big deal because that is what attracts people to come into the field – but a young person can go into almost anything else for a better wage.”

According to PayScale.com, an online resource for individual salary profiles, the average pay for an ECE in Canada is $14.82 per hour. Most people in the job move onto other positions after 20 years in the field, and pay does not change much based on experience, cites the website.

Service Canada reflects that data under its job description for ECEs and assistants, noting jobs in the occupation can be paid at minimum wage rates.

Ninety-six per cent of those jobs are filled by women ages 25-44, and are full time in a child daycare-service with a typical annual salary ranging from $20,000 to $30,000.

“I’ve been in the field coming up 33 years,” said Proulx. “And the wage has basically stayed the same, and not gone along with the living wage. It’s a really difficult situation.”

Proulx’s view is supported by a recent gender-based study of Lower Columbia communities that found one third of the local female labour force works in a low wage occupation, meaning annual earning of less than $24,000 a year.

That number doesn’t near the area’s living wage standard, which is $18.15 per hour for a 35-hour work week in a two-parent-two-child family, according to the Women Creating Change study.

Regardless of the low wage, Proulx says there are people who have a passion for working with children, and she encourages those to follow their heart.

“That’s why I stay here,” she continued. “There are children in our community who require good quality care and get a good strong start before they go to kindergarten. And if it is your passion, then you’ll make your way around.”

Recognizing the province-wide need for qualified educators, on March 27 the Ministry of Children and Family Development announced a $1 million bursary fund for students enrolled in early childhood education programs.

The ECE Student Bursary program was established one year ago by the Early Childhood Educators of BC (professional association for early childhood practitioners) with a $513,000 provincial investment.

Double the funds is good news for Taya Whitehead’s students enrolled in the Selkirk College Early Childhood Care & Education (ECCE) program.

“It is excellent the Ministry of Children and Family Development is recognizing the need for additional child care spaces in B.C.,” said Whitehead, an instructor in the ECCE program. “Currently, there are only licenced spaces for approximately 20 per cent of B.C.’s children.”

Under its BC Early Years strategy, two years ago the province committed to creating 13,000 new child care spaces over eight years, she explained.

“This fills a significant gap for B.C. families,” Whitehead noted. “However, in order to create these spaces we need early childhood educators.”

Proulx offers well-seasoned advice to current ECE students, 14 whom are enrolled in Selkirk College’s Early Childhood Care & Education Program at the Castlegar campus.

“Be an advocate for the field,” she said. “Show how important you are in our community. The development of a child is the most important thing here, and most people don’t even know what we do.”

Job titles and exact duties vary in the occupation and range from early childhood educator, pre-school teacher, day-care worker and child-care worker.

Days at Sunshine Children’s Centre are structured, and require one worker for every child infant-to-three; and at minimum, one ECE for every eight four-and five-year olds.

After workers ensure each child isn’t hungry, age-specific play and “circles” with learning outcomes focused on art, science and math ensue. Healthy snack time is followed by activities that incorporate skills like memory and counting through music and dance, before a half hour of outside play encourages gross motor development.

“Lunch is my favourite time of day because we find nowadays we aren’t sure how much family time at the table kids have,” she explained. “So we have them sit and socialize with the people around them. Many, many stories come out, because when they tell us so much, they are also learning language and speech vocabulary. And manners are really important for us.”

Setting aside $1 million to cover students taking an ECE program is wonderful, says Proulx, but the government should be looking towards a universal childcare system.

“Where everyone can afford childcare with a focus on zero to six, because we know that’s when the brain develops and you will catch kids who may need more support. For us, the government really hasn’t recognized that yet.”

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