First step on the career ladder

The early years sector needs to recruit 40,000 extra practitioners by 2025. Charlotte Goddard finds out how the government-funded Skills Bootcamps can help nursery managers find qualified staff

Credit: Kindred Nurseries

Recruitment has been a massive topic of concern for nursery managers for years, as settings struggle to find and retain the qualified staff they need to meet ratios and deliver high-quality early education and childcare. With the roll-out of funded places to children from the age of nine months, it is estimated that nurseries need to find 40,000 extra staff by 2025 to meet childcare entitlements in England.

“It is not just about retention of staff, or recruiting to fill gaps, we also need to be planning for those future children coming in,” says Heidi Dorrington, recruitment and training manager at Kindred Nurseries. Kindred is one of three nursery groups currently working with The Skills Network and Hawk Training on a government-funded Skills Bootcamp initiative to boost the number of qualified staff in the sector.

Skills Bootcamps have been around for a while in other sectors which are struggling to recruit, including health and social care, HGV driving and data engineering, but this is the first time they have been rolled out across the early years sector.

“We have been delivering bootcamps for two years now, but until recently our focus has been on digital, care, and project management,” says Wendy Dodson, partnerships director at The Skills Network. “In the last year we started looking at early years. Skills Bootcamps are designed to be shorter courses, a quick way of upskilling.”

Heidi Dorrington, recruitment and training manager, Kindred Nurseries

Free early years Skills Bootcamps are offered by a range of training providers, including Impact Futures and Realise, as well as The Skills Network. Content and delivery methods vary, but in general the courses are flexible, take up to 16 weeks to complete, and guarantee participants a job interview at the end.

Learners must be aged 19 or over, and have been in the country for at least three years, and the course is free to learners who are new to the sector. Employers can also send existing staff members on the courses, but will need to part-fund this.

The Skills Network bootcamps are delivered online with a mixture of live sessions and sessions which can be accessed at any time. Learners are given a choice of weekdays, weekends or evenings. “Our courses for early years are 12 weeks long,” says Dodson. “The live sessions will be five hours each week, and the learner is then expected to do additional hours in their own time. It is easy for them to fit it around their current employment, or other commitments.”

Student cohorts are generally between 10 and 15, and never more than 20. Students have access to personal tutors and learning support advisors, who are contactable by phone or email. “The courses also include other elements such as supporting learners with CVs and job applications,” says Dodson. “We offer mock interviews.”

Learners going through early years Skills Bootcamps do not leave with a qualification, but The Skills Network has teamed up with Hawk Training to support new practitioners through an accelerated Level 3 early years educator apprenticeship once they complete their course.

“The bootcamp is not a full Level 3 qualification but it is Level 3 standard,” says Dodson. “Once they have got to the end, hopefully they have demonstrated the ability to work at that level, and the apprenticeship is a little bit shorter.”

Recruiting through the bootcamp scheme has a number of benefits to nurseries, says Kindred’s Dorrington. “We know we are getting tried-and-tested enthusiastic learners who want to do the apprenticeship, because they have already gone through that 14-week period,” she says. “If they didn’t like it, they would have taken themselves off to do something else.”

Credit: Kindred Nurseries

New recruits will become Level 3 qualified in a shorter period of time than if they were starting from scratch, and managers can count them as Level 2 in ratio while they are completing the apprenticeship. “This will give employers access to a pool of talent where we have already done a lot of the groundwork,” says Crawford Knott, managing director at Hawk Training. “Our curriculum leader was able to work closely with colleagues at The Skills Network to map the content of the bootcamp and how it translates into that Level 3 apprenticeship, so these learners are effectively getting a head start.”

The Skills Network and Hawk Training are working with Kindred, Hungry Caterpillar Day Nurseries and The Co-operative Childcare, who will host learners for a day’s work experience, and then offer them an interview and potentially a job. “The employers have already committed to this programme and to providing the vacancies for successful completers of the bootcamp and we will then deliver that apprenticeship as an Ofsted-outstanding provider,” says Knott.

“We are heading close to having our first two learners that will be coming on their work experience placements with us, where they will have a day in the life of an early years educator, and we will be able to see how they get on with our children and our team,” says Dodson. “Although they are coming through the bootcamp process, we will still follow our safer recruitment process and ensure they are suitable for our setting.”

Nursery managers with vacancies are encouraged to get in touch with local providers running Skills Bootcamps. “They can approach Hawk or ourselves and we can look to see if we have learners in that region who are suitable,” says Dodson. “We could do some marketing to say we have this nursery that has X amount of vacancies, are you interested in a career in early years? We can accelerate your access into it.”

The Skills Network requires participants to hold Level 1 English and maths as a minimum. “Employers are really looking for Level 2, but we think we are cutting out a lot of potential learners there,” says Dodson. “We have said if they have Level 1 and are willing to work towards Level 2 as part of their apprenticeship, they will be OK.”

As the course is delivered online, learners could come from anywhere in the country, but recruitment is centring around areas where the three participating nursery groups have vacancies. The Skills Network’s initial contract for delivering the Bootcamp runs until 2025 and can support up to 380 learners.

Kindred’s Dorrington believes the initiative is a positive move for society as a whole, as well as for the early years sector and her nursery group in particular. “It is not just providing opportunities for learners, it will provide more nursery spaces eventually and help local parents return to work,” she says. “Kindred is a growing company, and we want to have really good-quality team members from different walks of life, including young school-leavers, parents who want to get back into childcare now their children are in school, or people who working in other sectors with transferrable skills. One of the reasons we are working with Hawk and The Skills Network is to broaden the diversity of people in our teams. This is a really cost-effective way of getting people in.”

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