This report presents the findings of the evaluation of the Childcare Works project, which has been delivered by the National Day Nurseries Association Wales (NDNA) in partnership with the Welsh Government.
The findings are based on interviews undertaken with Welsh Government representative and NDNA representatives (6), individual participants (9) (referred to as trainee nursery assistants (TNAs)) participating childcare providers (18) and representatives of employment support agencies (6) who referred participants to the Project.
The Project has tested new approaches to supporting workforce development and training. It aimed to increase the workforce capacity of the childcare sector in Wales, as well as to support individuals, particularly those over the age of 25, who have an interest in working in childcare to gain employment in the sector.
The project has been delivered over two phases. It offered participating individuals four weeks of childcare related training and three months of a paid placement at a childcare nursery for 16 hours a week. Phase 1 of the project was delivered within five local authority areas between October 2017 and July 2018. This phase achieved its target of engaging with 16 long term unemployed individuals aged 50 or over, and 32 young people aged between 18 and 24 who were not in education training or employment (NEET).
Phase 2 of the project was delivered within 10 local authorities between May 2019 and March 2021. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the project was paused for three months between March and July 2020 and the completion date was pushed forward from the original agreed date of January 2021 to March 2021. Phase 2 of the project overachieved on its target of engaging with 84 participants by supporting 93 long term unemployed individuals aged of 25 and over.
Both phases of the project followed a similar delivery approach, beginning with the simultaneous recruitment of childcare settings and TNAs on to the project. This was then followed by a programme of training and work experience in a childcare setting, and finally with the possibility of TNAs securing employment with the placement setting following the completion of the programme.
Most participants were referred to the Project by employment support agencies, who noted that they welcomed the programme and were happy to refer clients on to it. In their view the combination of training and work experience, as well as its sector specific focus, made Childcare Works ‘a unique support programme’ in Wales.
It was recognised by project coordinators and referral organisations, that individuals who are parents themselves often make good candidates for employment within the childcare sector. The Project therefore appeared particularly relevant to individuals being supported by the Parents Childcare and Employment (PaCE) programme.
TNAs recruited on to the programme were provided with four weeks of training which, pre-COVID, was delivered in face to face group sessions within a local community setting. In most urban areas, delivering the training in this way was not a problem. However, some project coordinators noted that finding a location to deliver training that was accessible to all TNAs in rural area was, at times, challenging. The sessions included a combination of general and specialist training tailored to reflect the newly introduced induction level of the Childcare qualifications and to provide participants with the skills and knowledge they required to begin work as a TNA in a childcare setting.
Employers considered the training to be appropriate and that it offered a sound base of knowledge to prepare TNAs for working in a childcare setting. For some of the employers, the incentive to get involved in the Project was to fill some job vacancies they had advertised at the time. For other employers, the incentive to participate was to help individuals to gain a job in the childcare sector. Some of the participating employers who were not looking to take on a new member of staff at the time, ended up employing the TNA at the end of their placement anyway. Many employers referred to the work placement as ‘a twelve-week job interview.’
Some referral organisations noted that offering participating TNAs a paid, as opposed to an unpaid, work placement ensured that they felt valued and that they were genuinely part of the workforce, as opposed to ‘free labour’. This, in their view, was one of the important success factors of the Project. TNAs noted that they felt well supported by the mentoring offered by project coordinators during the work placement. They explained that it helped them overcome any fears or uncertainties they had of entering a work environment, either after having a break from working or in some cases starting work for the first time.
Phase 1 of the Project 35 of the 48 participants into employment training or voluntary work. Phase 2 of the Project to date has supported 36 TNAs into permanent employment and 8 into apprenticeships. A further five TNAs were offered a job at the end of their placement but could not take it up. Reasons for this were either because the job offer involved more or fewer hours than they could commit to (included zero hours contracts) or they did not have access to transport to travel to the job each day.
TNAs who did not secure work at the end of their placement felt that skills training and confidence they had gained through the Project placed them in a much stronger position to gain employment in the future. The Project coordinators continued to offer 4 weeks support for participants who did not secure employment or training at the end of their placement. During 2020, Project coordinators also had the opportunity to refer participants to the Working Wales programme if they remained out of work or had not accessed any training 4 weeks after the end of the placement.
Impact of COVID-19 on performance and project outcomes
The Project was paused for three months, between March and July 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic had an impact on the project delivery and outcomes across all the areas involved. When the project restarted, most of the training delivered in the four local authorities where the project was still running moved online. Although this posed some challenges, it also generated some advantages. These advantages included the removal of limitations associated with delivering face to face training to groups within a specific geographical area. Online training also removed venue hire costs associated with face to face training. This money saved was used to hire laptops so that TNAs could access the online training provided.
The pandemic led to the temporary closure of many childcare settings. This limited the employment outcome opportunities of TNAs participating in phase 2 of the Project. However, despite these challenges, the Project met and, in many cases, exceeded its targets in relation to the number of participants supported and employment outcomes achieved.
Phase 1 of the Project met its engagement targets and Phase 2, despite the limitations of COVID, exceeded its target of engaging with participants (engaging with 93 against a target of 84) and supporting employment outcomes for 44 participants (36 into employment and 8 into apprenticeships) against a target of 42.
The Project has developed a proven pathway that can support out of work individuals, who would otherwise find it very difficult to gain employment in the sector, an opportunity to get their foot on the first rung on a career in childcare.
Targeting the support to those over 24 also appears to be appropriate as more employment support is already generally available to under 24 year olds and most entrants into the childcare sector appear to be school and college leavers (i.e. those aged under 24s).
The findings outline that the Project supported employers to recruit individuals over the age of 25 into entry level jobs within the childcare sector without excluding or crowding out any other individuals. For example, young school and college leavers and/or older, experienced childcare workers.
The Project has worked well within the context of the childcare sector and presents itself as a model that could be applied in the context of other sectors.
Encouraging participation from a wider range of childcare employers could possibly have offered TNAs wider options in relation to the type of work placement available and offered more employers within the sector the opportunity to recruit good quality staff.
Employers and employment support organisations were of the view that it was unlikely that any of the TNA participants would have gained employment in the childcare sector without the support of the Project. As such, it is possible to conclude that the Project only generated additional employment outcomes and there was no obvious deadweight.
The success of the Childcare Works Project appears to be largely dependent on it being delivered by a trusted facilitator and on its ability to recruit suitable candidates. Any future project of this nature should try and ensure that these two factors are taken into consideration and incorporated in its delivery design.
Any future project of this nature should consider widening participation to include a wider range of providers including Welsh language providers supported by Mudiad Meithrin.
The Childcare Works training package has been tailored by NDNA during the course of this Project to ensure that it provides individuals with all the foundation information they require as new entrants to the childcare sector. Efforts should be considered to continue the delivery of this training either within a standalone project or as an additional area of support that could be offered within other employability support programmes.
Any future employment support projects of this nature should consider maintaining the funded wage payments made to participants during work placements.
The broader reach of online training compared to face to face group training lends itself to a training model that can be delivered regionally or nationally as opposed to a local authority-based project. This should be taken into consideration in the design of any future employment support projects of this nature.
The successful outcomes supported by the Project would suggest that the support it has delivered to employers and unemployed individuals should be continued in the future either as a standalone project or ensure there is a suitable pathway within employability programmes for those who wish to pursue a career in Childcare.
Further consideration should be given to adopt the delivery model developed for the Childcare Works project to support employment paths for out of work individuals seeking employment in other sectors.
Full Research Report: Harries, S and Lane, J (2021) Evaluation of Childcare Works. Cardiff: Welsh Government, GSR report number 30/2021
Views expressed in this report are those of the researchers and not necessarily those of the Welsh Government
For further information please contact:
Childcare, Play, and Early Years Division
Digital ISBN 978-1-80195-035-0