By Aspire Economic Development + Chamber Alliance
Aspire recently held a workshop to discuss the importance of early childhood education and daycare. The event provided a platform for community members to hear from national and local experts, followed by group discussions and brainstorming sessions.
Panelists at the workshop included experts and leaders in the field such as Maureen Weber, president & CEO of Early Learning Indiana; Dawn Underwood, director of Johnson County Learning Center; and Amanda Lopez, founder and president of Transforming Consulting Group. Aaron Merchen, the director of Policy Programs for Early Childhood Education at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, spoke via Zoom about national trends and the impact of early childhood education challenges.
“When I had both of my children, I was on a waitlist for a year and had to piecemeal my childcare. It was stressful, and there were times that I was not able to work due to unstable childcare in that season of my life,” said Lopez.
The workshop revealed that childcare expenses and instability affect all community members and employers, regardless of socio-economic status.
“This is an everyday issue that so many parents struggle with and often causes parents to leave the workforce and/or stay out of the workforce altogether. As a result, we are losing valuable talent,” she said.
For employers, the lack of job applicants, employees turning down promotions or raises due to the benefits cliff, or employees missing work due to in-home childcare-related illnesses are some of the regular challenges that they face.
“As both an employer with a growing small business and a parent of young children, I personally understand the needs as it relates to childcare. Today’s parents are working parents. In our state, two out of three parents with young children under the age of 5 are working,” said Lopez.
“If we want to attract and retain parents in the workforce, then we have to understand the challenges and struggles that they face in finding safe, accessible and affordable high-quality childcare so that they can give it their all while they are at work.”
Lopez’ combination of personal experience and professional work has given her insight into the structural flaws and inefficiencies in many of the conventional childcare business models.
“The cost to operate childcare is very expensive. Typically, a business raises its cost to the customer to cover the costs to operate. However, if a childcare business does this it would be too expensive for parents to afford. This results in a high turnover of staff as childcare business owners can’t pay the wages currently offered on the market. What this means is that many childcare businesses have open spots but can’t fill them with children on their waitlist, because they can’t hire enough teachers due to the competitive job market,” said Lopez.
“It’s a vicious cycle and ultimately everyone loses. What we’ve found for childcare businesses to be successful is to raise additional revenue from individual donors, corporate sponsors, and business partnerships. We are also working to help support childcare businesses to become more ‘business savvy’ through shared service networks and other cost saving strategies.”
That is why Aspire hosted a workshop for business and community leaders to learn about and discuss often misidentified challenges among their workforces.
“These types of community events are incredibly helpful to build awareness. We find many employers are surprised to realize these challenges. They may not realize that the ‘pain points’ they’re experiencing with recruitment and retention of employees are often related to childcare issues,” said Lopez.
Panelists remained during the discussion portion of the event and were able to provide local data on daycare availability in Johnson County and discuss how they’ve seen other communities address cost and availability. We learned that Shelby County recently announced an Early Learning Center that will provide care for 200 children from ages 0-3 that is being funded through the state’s READI grant program. The state of Michigan has launched a program called MI Tri-Share where the cost of childcare is divided equally between employees, their employer and the State of Michigan. Initiatives like these came out of discussions similar to our workshop.
Aspire is acting by helping to place early childhood education and daycare flexibility at the center of discussion in the community. It is one of Aspire’s Business Advocacy Council’s priorities for this legislative session.
“Aspire’s hope is to create awareness, support initiatives, and advocate on behalf of families and businesses that if you want to enter the workforce, you have the choice and ability to do that,” said Amanda Rubadue, vice president of Economic Development at Aspire. “Early childhood education and the challenges facing families with young children not only impact the current generation of our workforce but the next as well.”