Ceeda Data: About Early Years 4 - Gaps in the market

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The new About Early Years Sector Skills Survey finds childcare employers are four times as likely to say staff lack crucial skills than in other sectors. By Hannah Crown


Problem-solving skills are the biggest skills gap in the sector

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More than one in two settings (55 per cent) report skills gaps in their existing workforce, over four times the 13 per cent of employers who report this across the wider economy. An estimated 35,600 early years staff (11 per cent) have skills gaps, compared with 4 per cent across all sectors.


‘Soft’ skills and attitudes are particularly lacking (see table above). A lack of interest/enthusiasm, problem solving, resilience and self-confidence, listening and communication and team working are cited in more cases than formally-taught skills such as maths and English.

The biggest gap was in problem-solving skills, cited by 67 per cent of settings with gaps, with 27 per cent identifying this as an issue with Level 3 staff without senior responsibilities. This was also an issue for 12 per cent of staff at more senior levels.

Other issues for Level 3s were a lack of interest and enthusiasm (also identified by 26 per cent of settings). Resilience and self-confidence are cited by 55 per cent of those settings with skills gaps – with nearly a quarter (24 per cent) of Level 3 staff lacking these.

Apprentices fare better than Level 2 and 3 staff in all areas surveyed, apart from maths where they are equal.

Methods and practice of supporting learning, and knowledge of stages of development were sector-specific skills gaps for over half of settings.

More than half of providers (55 per cent) reporting a skills gap said it resulted in an increased workload, while 39 per cent said it increased stress. For 42 per cent, it made maintaining standards harder, and around one in ten said it meant less SEND provision.


Current picture

One in three settings is now recruiting (compared with nearly one in two last year), looking to fill 14,300 posts, a 42 per cent decrease in vacancies. Most (61 per cent) are for Level 3 roles – see chart, below.


The proportion of staff qualified to Level 3 or above increased from 71 per cent in 2017 to 76 per cent in 2018 (Ceeda estimates remain below DfE estimates of 81 per cent).

So why do staff leave?


The table above, based on responses from employers with one or more staff leaving, echoes previous findings citing low pay.

According to Jo Verrill, author of the study and Ceeda managing director, ‘the high proportion of employers (26 per cent) losing staff because they’ve found jobs closer to home suggests an unwillingness to travel, which is likely to be related to pay. The implication is that providers are confined to fishing from a relatively small geographic pool.’

She added, ‘The early years workforce is predominantly female and feedback flagged challenges in retaining staff after maternity leave, linked to low pay rates and the high cost of childcare. Along with other reasons, this contributed to the 9 per cent of employers who had lost staff because they decided to take a career break.’

The fact that one in five employers cited poor work performance of the staff member will be of serious concern and is linked, says Dr Verrill, to the high average incidence of internal skills gaps in the sector.

Hard to replace

Seventy-seven per cent of settings say vacancies are hard to fill, compared with 84 per cent in 2017. One in four providers (24 per cent) has hard-to-fill vacancies, treble the figure for all employers (8 per cent).

Lack of qualifications of candidates is the principal reason vacancies are hard to fill (78 per cent), followed by lack of softer skills – 17 per cent said there were few applicants with the right attitude.

The strategies employers use to tackle these difficulties reflect the fact they are fishing from a small pool of candidates.

Half of providers with hard-to-fill vacancies said they were recruiting people with potential but no experience, while 35 per cent said they were recruiting people without qualifications. The most popular strategy was to ask staff to recommend jobs to friends (55 per cent).

Business-focused solutions included upskilling existing staff (44 per cent) and developing apprenticeship schemes (38 per cent). Less positive ones included increasing the use of overtime (37 per cent), while a significant proportion were paying for bank and agency staff.


More than half of settings with hard-to-fill vacancies say work has become more stressful (56 per cent), while recruitment and payroll costs are rising (51 per cent and 49 per cent).

One in five reported that team qualification levels have fallen.


Unlike previous studies which have put the sector’s staff turnover rate at about a third, this data puts average turnover at 15 per cent.

Factors influencing turnover include the size of the setting, with single sites winning out over chains with the lowest rate (14 per cent). The study found no significant difference across regions.

Keeping staff

Managers say they are using a plethora of positive strategies to try to entice staff to stay.

More than two in five providers with staff leaving in the past 12 months said they were providing more CPD to existing staff, the most common response by far. Nearly a third increased pay (29 per cent), while the same proportion found new ways of consulting with staff.


Training is a requirement of the EYFS so it is no surprise that 88 per cent of providers had arranged off-the-job training in the past 12 months.

Online training is the most popular (see table below), followed by coaching from line managers and external events.

All forms of training are set to reduce over the next year, perhaps a reflection of increased costs, which is concerning if it is a key method of retaining staff and filling skills gaps.



The proportion of early years providers with one member of staff training for a Level 3 qualification is 55 per cent. This was dependent on size of setting, however, with 29 per cent having no employees pursuing a qualification at Level 2 or above.

Level 3 is a training priority, while over the next 12 months employers also plan to spend on safeguarding, behaviour observation/assessment/planning and SEND.

Almost one in three settings saw personal effectiveness training (e.g. communication, listening, problem solving) as a priority training need (see below).


More information

The ‘About Early Years Sector Skills Survey’ is at http://www.aboutearlyyears.co.uk/about-early-years-sector-skills-survey/

AEY’s Workforce Roundtable is on 31 January bit.ly/2DafYm1

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