In a market that has grown so rapidly over recent years we are fortunate that there is now a wealth of opportunities for those wishing to work in - and make a career of - the early years.
However, with this rapid expansion comes the risk of asking too much of potential managers too soon. While we have built expectations among nursery nurses to progress their careers at a rapid rate, are they ready?
While an NVQ 3 or NNEB is a pre-requisite to this management step, it should be seen as a minimum. At Child Base, for example, every manager is undertaking an NVQ 4 in Management. NVQ 3s are available for those on Developing Managers courses. We should be insisting on this for all managers. Experience in lesser management posts is essential before taking on the 'ultimate responsibility'.
The modern manager will be multi-faceted, expected to be a childcare expert, business professional, personnel manager and customer service supremo. Therefore the training programme for them should concentrate on developing all aspects of their role. They should be made aware that the larger the nursery the further from childcare the managers may find themselves.
Too much, too soon?
Are we therefore looking for childcare professionals to become business managers or is the route to bring broad-based managers and teach them what quality care looks like and how they should deliver it? I feel as an industry we have been guilty of often promoting good nursery nurses too soon to management positions. We have therefore built a level of expectation among some of our young staff who are really not ready to make that step.
It is only through steady career progression, dealing with many challenges along the way, that staff will develop the experience required for management. Clearly more talented individuals have the ability to fast-track, but the building blocks along the way cannot be compromised.
The challenge of delivering good childcare and encouraging your team to deliver it on a consistent basis, should not be underestimated. The premises and the resources required are key elements of delivering the right environment.
Managers and potential managers should look carefully for an employer who will meet their needs. They need to feel there will be an environment where they will be allowed to make decisions and to accept responsibility, but at the same time feel supported when times of crisis arise. They need to find an employer, whether in a chain or a one-off nursery, who will support their training needs and also help them develop those skills required to move up that career ladder.
Work-based experience is simply not sufficient. The training needs to be broad-based, covering all the aspects motivating and managing a team effectively. Information technology skills, budgets, presentational skills, dealing with difficult people, reviewing performance and handling discipline are all part of a necessary training package.
Exchange of ideas
There is also no substitute for the exchange of ideas by meeting with similar professionals working in the same field. Where there is the opportunity for managers to come together then that exchange of ideas is invaluable. It is the sign of a maturing industry when those within it see the opportunity of meeting other providers as invaluable rather than as a threat. The role of a strong national professional body such as the National Day Nurseries Association has helped foster this within our field.
So if you want to be a nursery manager make sure you build that level of experience. With experience there should be training, so grasp every opportunity to undertake courses. But, do not believe that the rewards of seniority should come before you are ready.
We have seen salary scales for management staff rise rapidly over recent years to reflect the growing worth of key personnel. I hope this will encourage more to pursue a career with children. The areas of expertise required are extensive and as challenging, probably more so, than working in any other sector, and the fulfilment of a job well done is equally high.
Samantha Tomlin is personnel manager at Child Base