Why Early Childhood Education Centers Struggle to Attract and Retain Talent

Published on October 19, 2023 by MustardHub Admin

The early childhood education (ECE) sector plays a vital role in shaping the future of our children, yet it grapples with a significant challenge: attracting and retaining talent. High turnover rates within ECE centers not only affect the stability of the workforce but also impact the quality of care and education that young children receive. We delve into the factors contributing to the struggle in retaining and recruiting educators within ECE centers, drawing from the 2019 National Survey of Early Care and Education (NSECE) data, as well as empirical evidence from industry trends.

The Cost of Turnover in ECE Centers

Before exploring the reasons behind the turnover problem in early childhood education centers, it’s crucial to understand the magnitude of the issue. Turnover, characterized by the annual departure of teachers from ECE centers, results in substantial costs for these institutions and, more importantly, disrupts the continuity of care and education for young children. High turnover rates can be detrimental to the development and learning experiences of children who benefit from stable, nurturing, and consistent relationships with their caregivers and educators.

For-Profit Model as a Culprit 

The NSECE data highlights several center characteristics associated with higher rates of turnover. One notable factor is the business model employed by these centers. For-profit ECE centers, whether they are independent entities or part of franchises and chains, experience higher turnover compared to their nonprofit and government-run counterparts. It’s imperative to dissect the reasons behind this trend. For-profit centers often operate within the confines of profit-driven motives, which may translate into limited investment in the well-being of their educators. Reduced financial resources allocated to staff salaries, benefits, and professional development can erode job satisfaction, leading to higher turnover rates.

Impact of Subsidies on Turnover

Another key contributor to high turnover in ECE centers is the presence of children receiving subsidies. Centers that serve at least one child receiving a subsidy are more likely to witness elevated turnover compared to those that do not serve subsidized children. While this correlation may be influenced by the for-profit status of many centers serving subsidized children, it underscores the challenges associated with navigating complex subsidy systems and ensuring adequate compensation for educators.

The Age of Children Matters for Retention 

The age of the children in an ECE center is another determinant of high turnover rates. Centers catering to younger children, specifically those aged from birth to three or birth to five years, experience more significant turnover compared to those serving older children, typically three to five years of age. The reasons behind this trend are multifaceted. Working with younger children often demands more energy, patience, and specialized skills, which can be emotionally and physically draining. Additionally, the transition from infant to toddler and preschool stages necessitates a unique set of teaching methodologies that may not always align with educators’ skill sets and preferences.

Benefits Matter to Staff 

The provision of employee benefits is a crucial factor influencing turnover rates in ECE centers. Centers that fail to offer benefits, including health insurance and retirement packages, witness higher turnover compared to centers that provide these benefits. This finding underscores the importance of recognizing the value of benefits in the overall compensation package for educators. Inadequate benefits can lead to dissatisfaction and create an environment where talented educators are less likely to stay long-term.

Benefits, whether health insurance, PTO, or rewards based incentives can be a powerful motivator. MustardHub is a benefits and recognition platform designed for small businesses that help attract talent, reduce turnover, and transform company culture by delivering customized benefits meaningful to each employee. 

Director Experience Counts

A significant factor contributing to high turnover within ECE centers is the experience level of center directors. When directors have fewer years of experience working directly with children, the center is more likely to experience high turnover. Center directors play a pivotal role in setting the tone, culture, and policies of ECE centers. Their experience in understanding the unique needs of young children and guiding educators is invaluable. Directors with limited experience may struggle to create a nurturing and supportive environment, leading to educator dissatisfaction and ultimately turnover.

Interconnected Challenges 

It’s important to note that these factors are interconnected, and the reasons behind high turnover in ECE centers are often multifaceted. For example, for-profit centers that serve subsidized children may experience a compounded effect, as financial constraints and complicated subsidy systems can create challenging work conditions. Therefore, addressing turnover requires a comprehensive approach that considers the interplay between these factors.

Conversely, experienced directors in institutions that provide benefits, rewards, and recognition may find significantly higher retention rates with an engaged staff that aligns with a positive company culture of inclusiveness and support. 

The Path Forward 

Recognizing the underlying issues causing high turnover in ECE centers is the first step in finding solutions. Center directors, policymakers, and the broader community must come together to devise strategies that address these challenges. This may include reevaluating business models, advocating for improved compensation, enhancing training and professional development, and fostering supportive work environments.

Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has further intensified the need for a robust and resilient ECE workforce. The challenges presented by the pandemic, including abrupt center closures and sector-wide disruptions, underscore the urgency of nurturing and retaining the existing workforce while actively recruiting new talent.

The struggle to attract and retain talent within early childhood education centers is a multifaceted issue influenced by a variety of factors, including business models, subsidy systems, children’s ages, benefits, and director experience. Addressing these challenges is essential to provide the high-quality care and education that young children deserve while ensuring the stability of the ECE workforce. 

A concerted effort is required from all stakeholders to create a supportive and sustainable environment for educators and the children they serve. Platforms like MustardHub are a great start to engage the workforce and transform the company culture into a destination for workplace happiness. 


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