I am acutely aware of the difficulties that many early learning and care services report in recruiting and retaining qualified staff, and the high rate of staff turnover in the sector. In Pobal’s latest Early Years Sector Profile Report 2017/2018, the staff turnover rate stood at 24.7% which, despite a 3% improvement on the previous year, remains unsustainably high.
I believe that the key challenge to retaining staff is undoubtedly improving wages and working conditions. Over the last 4 budgets, the level of public investment in early learning and care and school-age childcare has increased 117%, and we need to keep increasing the level of public investment if we are to secure services that are of high quality, affordable and accessible. However, increased investment by itself will not ensure that staff wages and conditions will improve.
I am, however, doing all that is in my power to improve wages and working conditions in the sector. I have repeatedly called for the sector to pursue a Sectoral Employment Order, which offers a viable mechanism to establish appropriate wage-levels. My Department will readily co-operate with such a process when it is under way.
In First 5, the Whole of Government Strategy I launched with the Taoiseach in November, I made a commitment to develop a new funding model that will leverage additional investment for certain criteria, for example, better pay, or full implementation of the curriculum. I have set out my vision for the sector, and a roadmap to achieve it, in First 5.
First 5 also committed to a Workforce Development Plan, to raise the profile of careers in the sector and to ensure sufficient numbers of staff at all levels. Work on developing the plan began in recent months, following the publication of terms of reference for a Steering Group. The Workforce Development Plan will set out plans to achieve a graduate-led workforce by 2028, to establish a career framework and leadership development opportunities, as well as to work towards a more gender-balanced and diverse workforce.