EL PASO CO. — Just like many industries, early childcare is facing a massive shortage of workers. However, there's a plan in place in El Paso County to get more people trained and hired.
The new initiative is called Earn to Learn, and it's a program to get more people working at entry-level jobs in early childcare, while they get paid, continue their education and pursue it as a career.
Diane Price, the president and CEO of Early Connections Learning Centers, says prior to the pandemic, there were fewer and fewer people applying for early childhood jobs. Meanwhile during the pandemic, local day cares shut down and many people left the field altogether. As a result, a coalition of local organizations and entities are now coming together to recruit people who have a passion for teaching young kids.
"We were talking about how we would be able to support the economy and people going back to work, as people came out of the pandemic. Would there be adequate early childhood education programs?" asked Price. "So, we came up with a model that would help us recruit individuals in the field, who had a passion for early care and education. We wanted to design something that would address compensation, help them be able to work, earn money, but still continue their education or their professional development."
Price said during the pandemic, local organizations like Early Connections Learning Centers, the Pikes Peak Community Foundation, the county's Early Childhood Council, the Alliance for Kids, Joint Initiatives for Youth and Families created the El Paso County Early Childhood Workforce Taskforce, to come up with the plan during recovery after the pandemic.
David Dahlin, the vice president at the Pikes Peak Community Foundation said the foundation is also stepping in to bridge a funding gap of nearly $60,000.
"We saw that there is a real problem and there's a group that has come together and involved a number of profits, and they're trying to solve this problem at a systemic level. In this case we were able to help bridge a funding gap needed to take this initative to the next stage," said Dahlin. "We look for high leverage philantrophic opportunities, and when we are aware of something that there's a significant need that needs to be addressed, then we look into it."
According to those in the field, lack of marketing for the early childhood care jobs, low pay, and other factors have contributed to the low number of employees in addition to the aftermath of the pandemic.
"We made a decision this week to freeze our enrollment temporarily just to support our teachers," said Price. "We're in crisis. We have never seen anything quite like this. There are organizations out there which can't find enough teachers to keep their classrooms open, and they're not enrolling families right now."
Part of the program is new advertising and marketing early childhood care jobs more, working with Pikes Peak Community College and UCCS to create fast track programs for people interested in the field, and providing grant incentives ranging from $500 to $1,500 per candidate.
The Earn to Learn Program is already benefiting aspiring teachers like Kendra Upton, get her Child Development Associates Certification.
"I feel like this program has helped me a lot. I don't know what I would do without it," said Upton, who will be able to get her certification in about nine months total. "They've been supporting me throughout the whole thing, and its a program where you can go at your own pace."
More information about the program will be coming out soon.