A continuation of "Improve Your Daycare Business by Focusing on the Three Pillars"
Do your staff have a job, or do they have a career?
Human nature is not to stand still, but to keep moving forward. If you are lucky enough to find good talent, or caregivers to work in your daycare, it is crucial that you foster an environment where your team members have a path forward, whether that means opportunities to make more money with you, or a constant ability to improve their skills and competence in their jobs. This is what talent development is all about.
At 30%, the turnover rate in childcare is more than four times that of elementary school teachers. The COVID-19 pandemic has made the task of staffing childcare businesses even harder. In a December 2020 survey of childcare operators, 69% of respondents stated that recruiting and retaining qualified staff is more difficult now than it was before the pandemic. Yet childcare workers have been some of the pandemic’s unsung heroes, continuing to work in-person with children, and even taking on school-age children when K-12 schools remained shuttered. It’s never been more important to take measures to ensure that childcare staff feel respected, prepared and hopeful about their jobs.
The economics are impossible to ignore. According the Bureau of Labor Statistics, median hourly pay for a childcare worker in 2019 was $11.65. That’s less than median pay for food preparation workers and retail sales workers, and nominally higher than the median hourly pay for cashiers. Given that working in a daycare pays roughly the same or less than jobs that do not involve bending over, picking up kids, cleaning up constant messes and consumers who bite each other at times, it’s important to ask: what are you doing to create an environment where your staff would rather work in your childcare center than somewhere else?
Think Beyond the Paycheck
There is so much more to a job than what it pays. You as an employer have a lot of power to impact how your staff feel about working for you without touching their pay. Do they feel respected? Do they feel prepared for the specific tasks you are asking them to perform? What are you investing in staff development, and can they see opportunities to improve their skills? Being deliberate about the finer details of your teachers’ work environment can have big impact. For example, the Happy Teacher Project, a study focused on the well-being of early childhood educators, conducted surveys that found that one-fifth of early childhood educators reported having no adult-sized furniture in their classrooms. Back and knee pain and other job-related health concerns arose as potential contributors to turnover.
Many childcare workers are drawn to the field because they have a gift and a passion for working with children. But even the most gifted educator will have overwhelming days once in a while. How do you identify those, and what do you do to ease your teachers’ burden on those days? At Callahan Learning Center, we have found regular classroom reviews to be essential to managing teacher overwhelm. Our managers and teachers regularly review each other’s classrooms, offer pointers and give breaks when needed. Building a system of support and review into your daily operations can help ensure your staff feel that they are a part of a team, and they have the resources they need to continue to get better at what they do.
Whom Are You Looking for?
In a business such as childcare, when there is a constant need to hire, it can be easy to get complacent about whom you are hiring. Many managers make the mistake of looking solely at candidates who have specific hard skills, such as experience caring for children or previous childcare work. The skills needed to successfully care for young children are teachable. What is much more important is that your job candidate have the soft skills and temperament to be able to succeed in what can be a highly stressful work environment.
When you interview job candidates, focus on the soft skills. Ask candidates to tell you about their organizational skills. Ask them how they cope with stress. Ask them what makes them happy at the end of a workday. Craft interview questions that will help you determine whether an individual will be able to handle the chaos of eight 2-year-olds running around a room. You can always teach the hard skills and daily tasks they’ll need to perform, but you can’t teach temperament.
Preparation Breeds Satisfaction
Stress is endemic to work in childcare. While some of this stress stems from the unpredictability of children’s behavior, there are plenty of ways you can limit the amount of stress your employees experience. Start by helping them feel prepared at every step of the way. Nobody feels good when they are thrown into a situation they aren’t prepared for and expected to perform. Be intentional about equipping new hires with the skills they’ll need to confidently make decisions, and communicate with current staff about changes in their classrooms.
Training new staff members doesn’t have to take weeks. At Callahan Learning Center, we spend two days letting our new hires shadow teachers in the classroom. At this point they are not “in ratio” or part of our care team. They are there to observe and learn. They watch teachers, they have teachers watch them, and we take them through very specific checklists that prepare them to be in the room with children. After training, they will confidently be able to navigate all kinds of situations, from when to call building staff for help, to what to do if they need to use the restroom mid-shift.
Even seasoned staff won’t respond well if you are constantly throwing them curve balls. That’s why good communication about changes in the classrooms is key. It’s important to have a set process for informing your teachers about when a new student is coming to their classroom. Staff should be able to expect advance notice of additions to their class rosters, to avoid the stress of arriving at work to suddenly be told they are adding a new child to their care. Do you ask your staff to perform duties outside the classroom, such as tours or customer callbacks? How are you preparing your staff to perform these duties? At Callahan Learning Center, we’ve developed a system of certifications. Nobody gives a tour of our center unless they have been certified to do so. This not only improves the quality of our tours, but it also avoids the stress that asking a teacher on the spot to give a tour can cause. By earning certifications in things like tours and customer relationship management, our staff can build skills, confidence and eventually increase their earnings with us.
Be the Go-To Employer for Caregivers
To succeed in talent development, start making it your goal to be the best employer in your community for individuals who have a passion for working with young children. Think about all of the non-monetary ways you can support them in their chosen career, despite the industry’s reputation for low pay. Make sure you’re interviewing for the soft skills that are essential to sustained work in daycare, and then build systems that will equip your employees with the skills they’ll need to confidently make decisions throughout their workdays. This will put you on course to develop and retain your talent.
A Holistic Approach—and Where to Start
The Three Pillars of a Successful Daycare are an organizing principle that can help you allocate time and resources in a way that will lead to consistent quality and improvements in your childcare business. Start looking at the tasks you perform every day and placing them into one of the three categories of Customer Relationships, Operational Excellence and Talent Development. Are you spending most of your time in one of the pillars, and not enough time in the other two? This exercise can help you identify areas you’ve been neglecting, or opportunities to invest resources for improvement.
Remember that the Three Pillars are all about creating a better experience for the stakeholders who will determine the success of your business—the children in your care, their parents and your staff and teachers. This organizational structure can help you deliver a better experience to all three of these groups, strengthening both your business and the value you provide to your community.
About Tom Callahan
Tom Callahan is a serial entrepreneur and seasoned executive with a track record of starting, growing and leading companies of all sizes. He is the owner of Callahan Learning Center, a Virginia-based child care management company that operates centers providing high-quality and highly flexible child care. He is the founder of Child Care Seer, an all-in-one platform that can make child care a more manageable and profitable business. He came to the child care industry after more than two decades in the software and technology industries, where he invented multi-million-dollar product lines and guided multiple startups from cradle to exit, including his last startup selling for over $200 million in 2019. Learn more about Child Care Seer at childcareseer.com.
About Child Care Seer
Software that automates everything for your daycare, pre-school, early education learning center, or after-school learning program.