When the concept of a workforce shortage in early childhood education is discussed, we often center the conversation around classroom teachers. Next to classroom teachers, school leaders have the second largest impact on child outcomes, yet very little discussion centers around the notion that in early childhood education we are also facing a director shortage. Why is it so difficult to recruit qualified candidates into the director role? Why is turnover in that role almost as high as it is for classroom teachers? What can we do about it?
For those of us who have sat in the chair, we know that being the director of an early childhood program is a tough job. We wear many hats, work long hours, and are paid less than school leaders in the public school system. What often keeps us in that role is a passion for the work, and the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the children and families we serve. As early childhood directors are retiring from those roles, there is a void in applicants to fill them. It isn’t surprising when you think about the widely-portrayed profile of the millennial employee. Millennials are often described as attention-seeking, job-hopping, achievement-oriented techies who seek work-life balance. With that set of characteristics, it seems like a typical millennial would be completely incompatible with the role of early childhood director.
However, with a looming gap in early childhood leaders and the largest generation making its way through the workforce, early childhood organizations must carefully look at the role of early childhood director and restructure and rebrand it to make it more appealing to the millennial professional. Here are a few strategies…
Embrace technology – Millennials are tech savvy. Ensure your program is up-to-speed by integrating tech tools into your program operations. Not only will your early childhood program function more efficiently, but it will also connect better with families (who are likely to also be millennials themselves). Millennials will thrive in roles where they are able to put their social media, marketing, and communication skills to good use. In addition, we no longer have to dread the 4 a.m. “call out” phone call. Instant and text messaging are the more efficient way to connect with employees (a strategy millennials will appreciate) but may require a careful look at existing policies to adapt to the changing landscape of technology and communication.
Offer benefits that promote work life balance – Millennials have quickly lost interest in the “fast track” in exchange for a lifestyle that allows for a greater balance between professional fulfillment and personal desires. The role of director still may require long hours and/or flexibility, however, there are a few benefits that may make that a bit more palatable. For example, child care benefits (free or reduced) can be a huge draw to a well-qualified job seeker and is a benefit that early childhood companies and organizations are well-positioned to provide. Having the peace of mind of having your own child cared for under your direction, and at little to no cost, can be a great retention strategy for those in early childhood director roles (and teacher roles as well). Benefits that emphasize health and wellness (which can often reduce insurance costs for employers) are also attractive to millennials and can help to increase retention.
Be flexible about traditional qualifications – The face of early childhood leadership is changing. Gone are the days when a director needed to have decades in the field of early childhood education; having paid his/her dues in a classroom before obtaining a leadership role. Millennials are waiting longer to have families, meaning they are focusing most of their 20’s on their profession. With the demands of the role of early childhood director, what better time to capture the energy of an enthusiastic, emerging leader? Of course, having a strong foundation in child development and pedagogy are critical, however a successful director must also have leadership essentials: empathy, transparency, adaptability, creativity, and a desire to be a lifelong learner. When possessing these skills (along with support and mentorship) millennials can successfully take on the role of early childhood director.