Child care centres on the Sunshine Coast are finding it hard to get qualified help, and for at least one non-profit the situation has forced them to reduce hours.
The volunteer board at Huckleberry Coast Child Care, which operates out of the Arts Building in Gibsons, says despite advertising since October they haven’t found a suitable, qualified early childhood educator (ECE) to the fill the vacancies left by a retirement and another ECE moving on to a new job.
Bronwen Payerlee, chair of the Huckleberry Coast board, told Coast Reporter this week that they’re reducing hours from four days a week to just two as of Feb. 19.
The move will buy time to find more staff.
Payerlee said they’ve had some applicants, but none with the right qualifications.
She said they’ve even considered hiring through the temporary foreign worker program.
“Our advertising hasn’t turned up anybody and it seems all the centres are in the same situation,” said Payerlee.
Lisa Harrison runs Natural Connections Childcare, which she opened recently in the old Gibsons United Church building on Trueman Road. She said when the day care was getting started they recruited workers from off-Coast.
Harrison is currently advertising for someone to fill a vacancy and has also found that applicants with the right ECE qualifications are scarce.
The NDP campaigned on creating a $10-a-day daycare system and funding more spaces.
Powell River-Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons said following through on that also means investing in the training of more ECEs. “Obviously the child care plan is a huge plan and it will take a lot of time in terms of finding enough people to work in the sector. I think that’s the problem that we’ve partly run into on the Sunshine Coast,” Simons said.
“The child care plan wasn’t just about $10 a day; it was about having enough places, and about the need to get qualified educators.”
Late last year the province announced a $500,000 grant to The Little Scholars Child Care Centre in Sechelt to create 72 new spaces for infants, toddlers and preschoolers. Sherri-Lynn Hamilton, founding manager at Little Scholars, said at the time it means she’ll need to hire two more employees.
Some of that training could soon be available closer to home.
Julia Denholm, dean of Capilano University s kál-ax-ay campus in Sechelt, said Cap-U is planning to offer courses leading to ECE Assistant, Basic, and Infant Toddler certifications beginning in September 2018.
The university expects to announce information session dates in mid-February.
Simons said the difficulty local providers are having with job vacancies also speaks to another major issue on the Sunshine Coast – affordable housing.
“I’ve been hearing from business owners who’ve been having a lot of trouble attracting people across all sectors. If there isn’t adequate housing the ability to make that decision [to work on the Sunshine Coast] is taken away from them,” said Simons.
Payerlee and Harrison agree.
“We’ve had more people move [to the Sunshine Coast] with young children who need care,” said Payerlee. “All of a sudden we don’t have the staff and there’s a housing crisis, so people can’t even move and assume they’ll be well housed once they get here for a job.”
Harrison said even if potential staff can find a place to live, the costs are high. “Renting is really expensive here, and unfortunately not a lot of people are in the position to buy.”
Payerlee also said that although Huckleberry does its best to pay well, child care as a whole is not a high-paying career and that too contributes to the difficulty attracting workers – especially to areas with high housing costs.
“It is a job that’s predominantly done by women… I think young women start in the field because they love the job, but then they realize that they don’t make a very good wage and they move on to something else,” she said.
Harrison said she’s seen the same phenomenon across the industry, and Natural Connections Childcare has increased wages and offered other incentives to help attract and retain staff. She also said it may be time for the province to consider the sort of wage top-ups for child care workers that have been used in places like Alberta and Nova Scotia to encourage people to enter the profession.