Nursery Chains - Interview

Monday, November 14, 2016

Chris Roblett of Hungry Caterpillar Day Nurseries was named Nursery Operations/Regional Manager of the Year at the 2016 Nursery World Awards

How did you start in early years?

It’s a personal journey. I had a friend who worked with Reception class children and had a lot of backlash from parents, who didn’t feel that a man should be in the job. A lot of dads at that time didn’t think a man should be in that position. He wasn’t overly supported by his line management and he left the profession after two years.

He was a real inspiration. Men in childcare are much needed. I’ve only had one person question my choices. I started working in nurseries when I was 17 – I’d worked in respite schemes over the holidays. I did an apprenticeship Level 2 in early years and childcare, learning and development. Then I did a Level 3. From that I went through all the ranks and now I’m a Level 5.

I’ve been at Hungry Caterpillar for three years. I came in as an area manager supporting a handful of nurseries, and then when there was a reorganisation, I became operations manager – two senior managers were given clear roles and expectations in order to support me.

You’re involved in the Men in Childcare network. How did you achieve a 500 per cent rise in the group’s male workforce?

It’s about role-modelling, demonstrating to men that they can work in the sector. I’m the operations manager. People can see that a man can do the job and do it as well as a female practitioner. We’ve had a flurry of male practitioners. All our male practitioners are very local. We’re not fluffy – as one has said to me, the nursery environment isn’t all fluffy cushions.

We don’t want to see men changing lightbulbs. It’s about breaking down barriers. Female managers are also more tuned in to getting the very best out of male candidates at interview stage and really looking at what skills they possess. We have turned down male practitioners who haven’t made the grade. In early years, it used to be, ‘You’re a man, we need a man.’ Now it’s, ‘You’re a man, are you the right person for the job?’

We’re working with Toad Hall nursery group with their efforts to really heighten the message that men can do this role. You can only make a difference in your local community – start at grass roots and then the message does filter out.

What’s your typical day?

I cover all of West London, Ealing, Harrow and Hillingdon. My diary depends on the needs of the business. I am the strategic head, I support the directors, I’m also a line manager, and I support vulnerable families and children. I am the lead with training and development and we are moving in exciting times with developing more in-house work for our team.

What are your current projects?

2017 will be the year of training for us. It will be a real mix. We’ll be looking at how we support new members of staff, what we do with nursery services. But it will also be about going back to basics – how to change a nappy, sleep management, and great customer service, to name a few.

How did you feel when you heard you had won the award?

It was such a privilege and honour to even be shortlisted, never mind winning. I love and respect what I do and the industry that we are in, and I can see myself being in this sector until they have to kindly ask me to leave.

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