I am aware that many early learning and childcare services are reporting staffing difficulties, exacerbated by the current high rate of Covid-19 in the community. My Department is actively monitoring the issue and has sought data and evidence-based proposals from sectoral representatives.
Last week, my Department convened a subgroup of the early learning and childcare stakeholder forum to discuss immediate staffing pressures resulting from Covid-19 and additional measures that may be needed. The group is examining ways to provide additional staffing support on a temporary basis, including a proposal, which is being considered by further and higher education institutions, to build on the current process available to enable students who are undertaking early learning and care qualifications to work in the sector temporarily while carrying on their studies. The group is meeting again today to consider proposals.
While Covid-19 creates additional pressure, longer term challenges with recruitment and retention of staff remain. The high level of staff turnover in the sector, which was 18% last year, primarily reflects the level of pay and conditions of employment. However, we should remember that the sector has continued to grow in recent years, despite the challenges. Employment in the sector has risen from 25,700 in 2016 to 30,900 last year. Thanks to considerable supports from the Government over the past 18 months, employee numbers in the sector have held steady.
The State is not the employer and does not determine pay rates. However, last December I began a process to examine the possibility of regulating pay and conditions. This led to the establishment of a joint labour committee, JLC, which has been brought together.
In budget 2022, I announced the introduction from September 2022 of a significant new core funding stream for services. Among other objectives, core funding will support services to meet the conditions that may be set in an employment regulation order, ERO, as a result of the JLC.
I will publish a workforce plan for the sector later this month, which will include important actions to strengthen career pathways and support recruitment. The plan will also map out a positive way forward for the sector. I believe the services will develop further as a result in the years ahead.