Nursery owners are seeking opportunities to recruit from abroad as a result of the difficulties attracting staff with the required GCSEs, but uncertainty remains over how to attract and retain EU workers in light of Brexit.
The GCSE requirement for Level 3 staff is just one of the challenges that is leading nursery owners to explore overseas recruitment, alongside their current UK strategies.
But with confirmation Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty will be triggered by March 2017 and Home Secretary Amber Rudd’s assertion that foreign workers should not be able to ‘take the jobs that British people should do’, employers and EU staff are uneasy about the future.
There is a fear that employers could be faced with a complicated visa process for employing EU citizens. The sector is also still awaiting a review of the GCSE requirements, as promised by the then education minister Sam Gyimah in July.
Nicola Amies, director of early years for Bright Horizons, said optimum recruitment levels can ‘only be achieved through a multi-faceted approach’ and that she was ‘delighted’ with the early success of the overseas recruitment initiative which the group added to its recruitment strategy this year. This included recruiting from Spain.
She told Nursery World, ‘The programme has enabled us to place highly qualified practitioners into targeted areas, such as Oxford, Cambridge and London, which have historically been more challenging to recruit for. This initiative, alongside our Early Years Apprenticeship programme, GCSE maths and English programme, School Direct Early Years Teacher programme, and learning and development career programmes, is helping us to ensure that Bright Horizons is well positioned for today and the future.’
Gemma Allardyce, head of central operations at The Co-operative Childcare, said ‘looking at opportunities to recruit from abroad’ was just one of the avenues the group was exploring, alongside recruitment efforts in the UK.
David Wright, owner of Paint Pots, a chain of ten nurseries in Southampton, said although there are issues attracting and retaining the right staff, particularly Level 3s, it was managing to cope – but recruitment is taking longer because there is a ‘smaller pool of talent available locally’.
He added, ‘Although we have not gone abroad directly to recruit, a lot of applications come from EU mainland citizens.
‘We employ staff from Italy, Portugal and Poland. Individually, they have concerns about their long-term security as a result of Brexit. But no one knows what will happen and it’s not worth worrying about. I can’t imagine the Government will send anyone back.’
In response to some of the concerns, the DfE told Nursery World that the Prime Minister has been clear that she wants to protect the status of EU nationals already living in the UK, and the only circumstance in which that would not be possible is if British citizens’ rights in European member states were not protected in return.
A spokesperson added, ‘At every step of these negotiations we will work to ensure the best possible outcome for the British people. We are about to begin these negotiations and it would be wrong to set out unilateral positions in advance.
‘We will set out next steps on the workforce strategy in due course and will be encouraging employers and other stakeholders to offer their views.’
KIDZ KABIN DAY NURSERIES, NORTH LONDON
Jonathan Bailey, HR manager at Kidz Kabin, a chain of three nurseries in Muswell Hill, says the potential impact of Brexit could affect its workforce ‘massively’.
He says, ‘It’s difficult enough recruiting early years staff, but to get the right calibre of staff is another matter. The effect of Brexit could be enormous. There’s not enough people applying as it is. We have considered advertising for vacancies in EU countries like Spain to widen the pool of experienced candidates.
‘We are faced with a two-pronged attack when it comes to recruiting high-calibre staff: the effects of Brexit and insisting that Level 3 qualified staff have maths and English GCSE at grades A to C.
‘It’s counter-intuitive. Our staff from the EU can speak and write English perfectly well. Kidz Kabin employs 60 people across three sites. A third of them are from the EU; many of these have qualified teacher status and between them they speak 23 languages.
‘At the main nursery, Pembroke Studio in Muswell Hill, there are staff from all over the EU, including Romania, Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary and Albania. Last week, they took on a girl from Greece who said that the job opportunities there are nonexistent, yet she is a qualified teacher with several years’ experience.
‘We get a lot of applications from EU countries. We are a very multi-cultural setting. This is one of our unique selling points, especially to some parents whose children start nursery without being able to speak any English.
‘We do of course have English staff working here as well, and we like to take on local apprentices – our workforce is so multicultural and it’s so beneficial for the children.
‘We put our adverts out and we wait for CVs to come through, but if the EU were removed from that, the applicant pool would be massively reduced. We recruit apprentices from local colleges. When looking for fully qualified staff – and they have to be fully qualified to be counted in ratio – we take on a lot of qualified teachers from mainland Europe.
‘This is not to say there aren’t local qualified people, but it would be a shame to cut out that section of the workforce.
‘For us, we pride ourselves on our multiculturalism. In this setting alone we have six qualified teachers, 13 with degrees and Master’s degrees – as well as 95 per cent at Level 3 and above, from a dozen different countries.
‘We pride ourselves on that workforce – and that’s because we welcome candidates from all over the world.’