An Ontario research report on the early learning and child care (ELCC) workforce titled Knowing our numbers: A community approach to understanding the early childhood education workforce was released June 26 2024. This report was first initiated by the County of Simcoe, the Municipality of Chatham-Kent, and the County of Lambton to better understand the challenges of today’s early years workforce and develop local evidence-based policies. The Atkinson Centre led the work on this report in collaboration with 43 of Ontario’s 47 service system managers (CMSMs and DSSABs) and the College of Early Childhood Educators. This report draws on the findings of a province-wide survey which received responses from 3,292 Registered Early Childhood Educators (RECEs) and 1,311 non-RECEs, as well as focus groups findings with 91 participants to ensure representation from Francophone, remote, and rural communities. 

Survey questions covered topics such as compensation, non-mandatory benefits, professional learning, working conditions and discrimination in the workforce.

 A few notable research findings from the survey include: 

  • Auspice: Median wages were highest for those working in child care programs operated by post-secondary institutions ($30/hour) or programs directly operated by municipalities ($29/hour). The median wage was lowest in the for-profit sector ($22/hour) with non-profit and EarlyON programs falling in the middle (both at $24/hour). Data was collected prior to Ontario’s 2024 wage floor increase for RECEs to $23.86/hour. RECEs and non-RECEs in for-profit child care report the lowest levels of satisfaction, while those in CMSM/DSSAB-operated centres are generally more satisfied.
  • Race: A statistically significant difference in the average hourly wage was found between racialized ($24.69) and non-racialized ($25.97) RECEs. However, the wage differential ceases to be significant for those with 10 years of experience. Non-RECEs are more likely to be racialized (42.6%) than RECEs (22.9%), and almost half (48.9%) of licensed home child care providers are racialized. There has been very limited data collection on the racial disparities within the child care workforce, which makes these findings significant across Canada. 
  • Retention: The report also addresses staff shortages, burnout and retention challenges, emphasizing their impact on quality and access for children and families. Only 36.3% of RECEs report planning to stay in the field for the next five years, with 23.7% planning to leave and 40.1% undecided. Those who had plans to leave the sector also reported higher levels of stress than those who planned to stay. When asked what would improve their personal job satisfaction, the top response selected by 52% of respondents was “appropriate salary” followed by “improved benefits” (41%) and “support for children with emotional and behavioural needs” (34%). Focus group participants also reported that staff shortages often led to administrators filling in on the floor and children with disabilities being sent home as their special needs resource (SNR) consultants also were pulled in to cover ratio.
  • Non-mandatory benefits: Respondents were asked which of 12 non-mandatory workplace benefits they receive and the most commonly reported benefit was paid sick days (79% of respondents). The least reported benefits included pay increase for obtaining a new credential or degree in ECE (7.1%), tuition assistance (8.6%), and parental leave top-up (12.5%). Half of respondents reported access to a pension benefit or employer RRSP contribution, with significant auspice differences: 23.3% of respondents working in for-profit programs compared to 53.3% in community non-profits and 71.8% in directly-operated municipal programs. Both auspice and union membership are associated with a wider range of benefits, independent of each other. 

Best practices to address these challenges at the local level were highlighted and included: expanding directly operated child care, developing local workforce strategies, working across silos within service system managers to share data between regions and across departments, and finding ways to increase compensation at a local level. 
Hearing from ECEs and the broad child care workforce through mechanisms such as this research study is integral to developing evidence-based policies to best address challenges faced by the child care workforce. Child Care Now continues to work on advancing collective knowledge on Canada’s early learning and child care (ELCC) workforce through our project Educators Matter: Workforce Policy for Quality ELCC.

Read the report here