Saturday December 02, 2023

6 cities need 9,000 early childhood education professionals by 2030

Published : 25 Apr 2023, 02:45

Updated : 25 Apr 2023, 02:50

  DF Report
Photo: City of Helsinki by Antti Nikkanen.

The six largest cities in Finland on Monday demanded that the new government´s action to resolve the staff shortage prevalent in the early childhood education and care sector.

The early childhood education sector authorities of the cities of Helsinki, Espoo, Vantaa, Turku, Tampere and Oulu in a joint statement said that the cities are already short more than 2,600 early childhood education and care teachers and social workers.

The situation will soon grow even worse, as the Early Childhood Education Act from 2018 stipulates that daycare centres must increase the proportion of people with degrees in higher education among their staff by 2030.

This means that at least two-thirds of the staff at daycare centres must be qualified early childhood education and care teachers or bachelor’s degree holders in social sciences.

At least half of the latter must be qualified early childhood education and care teachers.

“In terms of the availability of qualified staff, the situation is already critical and will only grow worse. We have estimated that in the six largest cities alone, we need more than 9,000 new early childhood education and care professionals with degrees in higher education by 2030. Without this, we will not be able to provide early childhood education and care to all of our residents and fulfil the obligations set out in the Early Childhood Education Act,” said Head of Early Childhood Education of the City of Vantaa Mikko Mäkelä.

The cities’ heads of early childhood education have identified clear reasons for the staff shortage. First of all, the number of children and their early childhood education and care participation rate have increased significantly in the cities since the 1990s. At the same time, the number of trained early childhood education and care teachers has halved. Efforts were not made to increase this number until recent years.

“Children do not have time to wait. The staff is being. stretched to their limit. It is obvious that without sizeable measures to resolve the staff shortage, the cities will not be able to provide early childhood education and care to everyone, and the quality of the services will suffer. This will have a far-reaching impact on children, families and labour market effectiveness,” said Head of Early Childhood Education of the City of Helsinki Miia Kemppi.

In 2030, managers in charge of daycare centre operations will also be subject to new eligibility criteria. In the future, the manager will be required to be a qualified early childhood education and care teacher or social worker, have sufficient managerial skills and also hold at least a master’s degree in Education. This means that merely having a master’s degree will no longer suffice and people holding only a bachelor’s degree in social services be prevented from progressing on their career to a managerial position.

“Good management plays an extremely important role in the staff’s ability to cope and recognising this is surely an underlying factor in the change in eligibility criteria. At the moment, however, less than 10 per cent of the six cities’ managers working in early childhood education and care have a master’s degree. We will not have enough daycare centre managers if the only way to become one is to obtain a master’s degree,” said Elli Rasimus, the City of Tampere’s Director of Early Childhood Education.

The heads of early childhood education would like the new government to collaborate with municipalities to assess the financial and schedule-related requirements of implementing the Early Childhood Education Act. They believe that the new government should extend the transition period for implementing the required staff structure so that the number of staff trained will realistically correspond with the increasing need for personnel. Furthermore, the eligibility criteria for daycare centre managers must be changed so that having an applicable master’s degree from a university of applied sciences would also be an acceptable qualification. The situation is particularly dire with regard to qualified Swedish-speaking staff, and for this reason, ensuring the availability of Swedish-speaking staff will require tailored measures.

“Growing cities are in a tight spot, as their financial position was undermined by the previous government. The cities have done and are doing everything in their power to improve the situation with dwindling resources. Qualified staff is simply not available. We need the new government to devise a clear plan for resolving the staff shortage. In particular, the plan must contain solutions for increasing the number of trained staff and related funding,” said Director of Finnish Early Childhood Education of the City of Espoo Virpi Mattila.

The cities stress that there was a need for an ambitious increase in the number of trained early childhood education and care teachers and social workers as soon as the new Early Childhood Education Act was approved. The six cities state that multiform and conversion training carried out in addition to work must also be developed in closer collaboration with municipalities, and their funding must be made permanent.

“It is extremely important that committed early childhood education and care workers stay in the sector. Studying while working must be made as easy as possible. After all, in terms of training for early childhood education and care teachers and social workers, we are talking about a bachelor’s degree that takes three years to obtain on average and requires considerable efforts from the student,” said Director of Early Childhood Education of the City of Turku Vesa Kulmala.

The heads of early childhood education from Finland’s six largest cities pointed out that the issue has to do with money as well. It has been estimated that training the amount of staff with degrees in higher education needed by the six largest cities alone will cost more than 160 million euros. The costs to respond to the need for 20,000 more higher degree holders in all of Finland, a number estimated by the Delegation of Local Government and County Employers KT, will be more than 360 million euros.

“In the 2023 government budget, a one-off sum of 6.3 million euros was allocated towards increasing the number of places for new early childhood education and care students. It is clear that this amount is like a drop in the ocean in relation to the overall need. The next government must recognise how substantial the resourcing that early childhood education and care requires is,” said Deputy Head of Early Childhood Education of the City of Oulu Kirsi Ranki.