Lack of Early Childhood Educators affecting daycare space access

By Kirk Winter

Current Compass employees earn a base rate of $19.20 an hour.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce and local MPP Laurie Scott took have been promoting Kawartha Lakes daycare facilities, touting the joint federal-provincial plan they claimed would create 86,000 new daycare spaces across Ontario by 2026. The problem, however, is even daycare officials aren’t sure where the Early Childhood Educators (ECEs) will be found.

While supportive of the idea of more affordable daycare spaces, Sheila Olan-MacLean, co-CEO of the not-for-profit Compass Early Learning and Care Centre that provides about half the child care spaces in Kawartha Lakes, doesn’t know where she and other providers will find the additional 70 staff to adequately service the 443 new spaces that will be funded locally.

“The province has received $500 million from Ottawa in one-time Workforce Strategy Funding,” Olan-MacLean said in a phone interview with the Advocate,” and not one penny of that funding is going to be used to improve the wages and working conditions of the early childhood educators who are responsible for delivering the important daily programming we offer.”

Olan-MacLean explained that the province has built into their childcare program blueprint a wage structure that will pay ECEs only $19 an hour.

“You might as well go work at Tim Hortons,” Olan-MacLean said. “The average career for an ECE after graduating their two or three-year college program is only three years. It is very difficult to attract good people to the career and retain them once they enter it. It is heart-breaking that we cannot pay enough for people to come and stay.”

Olan-MacLean pointed out that the province had multiple options of what they could do with that half billion-dollar federal windfall to make the system more viable and attractive to new workers.

“Saskatchewan took their money from the Workforce Strategy Funding and used it to increase wages for all ECEs in the province $5 an hour,” Olan-MacLean said. “Ontario rejected doing something like that despite being told by many that it was very necessary.”

Life of an ECE

Current Compass employees earn a base rate of $19.20 an hour plus a $2 an hour enhancement introduced by the province just before the pandemic. Olan-MacLean said that provincial bump-up could disappear at any time as it is not viewed as permanent.

The job itself is a challenging one with many employees only part-time and asked to work split shifts to staff the before and after school care programs offered by Compass. Benefits are available for those who work at least 24 hours a week.

“It is not an ideal shift,” Olan-MacLean said. “That five hours a day that kids are with us in programming is very important and we want good people working with them. Being an ECE is a very important job. Every day there are magical moments where we have impacts on kids. Unfortunately, it is difficult to attract people to the career because of pay.”

At a time when the province is in need of potentially 14,000 new ECEs by 2026, Olan-MacLean said that enrollments at colleges in Ontario that offer the course have dropped between 20 and 40 percent.

Olan-MacLean is aware of an increasing number of her employees who need to work another job to make ends meet, or who work at multiple daycare centres to get enough hours to survive.

“We have had many discussions with the provincial government,” Olan-MacLean said, “and they seem far more concerned with the health care crisis and finding the additional people to make sure hospitals are adequately staffed. What the province doesn’t understand is that many of those workers who are currently not in the workforce are at home because they cannot find childcare spaces. Child care is an economic and social issue and Ontario cannot work without childcare.”

What needs to be done

Olan-MacLean emphasizes that any kind of expansion of daycare in Ontario must see workers better compensated for what they do or the expansion plans are only mirages.

“We want to see qualified ECEs earn $30 an hour,” Olan-MacLean said. “We want to see equality with what the school board is currently paying the ECEs who are working in kindergarten classes in Kawartha Lakes. $30 an hour vs $19 is not OK. We need a $10 an hour subsidy from the province for staff.”

Olan-MacLean told the Advocate that workers in Ontario’s care industries, whether they be educational assistants, personal support workers or early childhood educators are undervalued.

“We have to decide what kind of world we want to live in,” Olan-MacLean said. “Our current job postings stay up for months (unfilled). Other daycares we are in communication with around Ontario regularly lose staff to COSTCO.”

The shortage of qualified ECEs is already forcing centres like Compass to hire people without an ECE qualification to fill their staffing needs.

Scott responds

The Advocate reached out to MPP Scott for comment regarding some of the concerns raised by Olan-MacLean.

In an exchange of emails Scott said, “In the childcare sector, our government signed a deal (with the federal government) by which we can ensure more labour market participation by women in our economy. This deal is finally going to make childcare affordable while cutting fees by 50 per cent and creating 86,000 daycare spaces.”

When asked to address the low wages that are driving many ECEs out of the profession, Scott pointed out that the government has already been raising wages with the $2 an hour enhancement introduced pre-pandemic.

Olan-MacLean was thankful for that wage enhancement that raised her workers wages to $21.20 an hour. Unfortunately, even with that provincial assistance most childcare workers are still almost $9 an hour short of parity with their fellow ECEs who work in the elementary school system.  

Scott added that for unionized ECEs who are members of CUPE (largely those working in the school system) the province just finished negotiating a four-year deal with their union that will see wages increase four per cent in each year of the collective agreement.

In terms of addressing the ongoing staffing shortages bedeviling most childcare centres, Scott said she was hopeful that an extension of the dual-credit program in Ontario high schools to include ECE training “might attract students into the growing sector of Early Childhood Education.”

The program allows students to begin their college education while in high school, and the two credits they earn in either Grade 11 or Grade 12 exempt them from a part of their college level ECE program saving the student money and hopefully making the program and profession more attractive.

In a media release Lecce said he believes the program, province-wide each year, could start approximately 400 students on their way to getting their childcare qualifications. However, the potential need will be for 14,000 ECEs by 2026.

1 Comment

  1. NA says:

    I’ve been an RECE for 18 years, I left the sector, unfortunately I can’t raise a family making 22.00 dollars an hour. And it’s very difficult, stress, sickness and lack of staffing your working your tail off. Sad I left , but it’s time for a change

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