This article is all about how the pandemic changed the hiring process in the early years, and what we’ve got to do to hire the best staff in 2021 and beyond.
You’ll hear from three experts (two in the UK, and one from the US) with HR experience within the early education sector. We’ll explore everything from how to make a compelling job post, to what makes new hires want to stick around at your setting.
If you take just one thing away from this, it should be that safety concerns are on everyone’s minds right now. You should be prepared to talk a lot about your safety measures with interviewees in 2021.
The early years hiring process just isn’t the same as it was before the coronavirus came to town.
Granted, not much is.
But hiring right now is a unique challenge. How do you make a good first impression on a Zoom call? Should your job ads be corona-themed, or is better not to mention it? And how do you present the day-to-day realities of essential, front-line work during a pandemic without scaring people off?
If it all seems a bit tricky, don’t worry — it’s not just you.
That’s why we’re here to revisit the process, and to learn how Early Years hiring works in the here and now. And to shed some more light on it all, I called up some expert voices from within the sector.
In this article, you’ll hear from:
Sophie Haylock: Sophie has worked in the Early Years HR sector for over 10 years, and knows early education from the perspective of an owner and an HR specialist. Today, she owns a day nursery in Surrey, England, and runs an Early Years HR consultancy firm.
Lauren Gill: Lauren is the Head of People at Vivvi, a New York-based child care provider. She helps plan and direct how Vivvi hires early educators for their settings in New York City.
Imogen Edmunds: Imogen founded HR consultancy Redwing Solutions in 2004, and is still the Managing Director. The firm, which is based in Redditch, England, specializes in advising early education settings on HR and employment law.
Let’s see what they’ve got to say.
You’ve got to work a bit harder to find that perfect hire
If you’re looking for an extra helping hand these days, you’re not alone.
Once you post that first job ad, you’re likely to see plenty of applications coming in. The challenge is sifting through them all to find your top picks — and then persuading those top picks to come join your team.
As Imogen Edmunds says, that’ll require you to be more proactive in your hiring than you’re used to.
“You’ve got to educate your candidate on what you’ve got to offer — almost in the same way you’d try to woo a family to register at your setting,” she says. “The employers who are succeeding these days are really thinking about who that ideal candidate is, and what they’d want to hear.”
So what might persuade that perfect hire to join your team? In 2021, here are the factors that matter most:
Consider your applicants’ own time commitments. Start your hiring process off by showing you understand your applicant’s lives and commitments. A good way to do this is to make it clear that you can do interviews in the off-hours, if necessary. “A successful practitioner may be working from 7:30 AM to 6:00 PM, Monday through Friday — so inviting them for an interview at 3 PM won’t do, even if it works best for you,” Imogen says.
Show you’re serious about growth and development. That ideal hire should know you’re serious about investing in them, and helping make a career in early education. Do you have a plan set up for providing CPD to your team? Are you planning to open another setting, or build a new room? Put that front and center in your ads and interviews, to make it clear how you value the work you do.
Put safety first and foremost. This one’s big — you can expect just about every interviewee to ask about your safety measures. I can’t cover it enough with just one bullet point, so I’ve written a whole section on safety right down below.
Should we hire for the short term or long term right now?
With closures, reopenings and worries about new virus variants, it’s fair to say that things have been a bit touch-and-go lately.
You might be tempted to hire short-term help on temporary contracts, given the situation. But even though we’re not quite out of the woods yet, every expert I spoke to says it makes more sense to hire for the long-term right now.
Children need consistent caregivers. “We want to build those stable teaching teams and be a consistent touchstone for families, especially in this turbulent time,” says Vivvi’s Lauren Gill. “It’s nice for families to know they’re not going to have a rotating cast of teachers, but the same teaching and leadership team supporting them.”
Your staff deserve a setting they can commit to. “Hiring long-term shows you believe we’re going to have a future,” Sophie Haylock says. “It’s a matter of being confident and optimistic about it all. We do need to look at the long term, because the need for child care is just not going away.”
Be prepared to talk about your pandemic safety measures
Your pandemic safety measures speak volumes about who you are as an employer. On a practical level, it’s a test of how adaptable you are, and how organized you can be during tough times. But beyond that, it’s a question of how well you care for the people you work with.
You can expect to answer a lot of detailed safety questions during your hiring interviews these days. And as Imogen Edmunds says, it’s important to spend some time thinking about how you’ll answer those questions beforehand.
“In this past year, we’ve seen some very negative impressions of employers who don’t take COVID-19 security seriously. I know of candidates who have declined job offers just because of that,” she says.
From the moment you post your “now hiring” advert, here’s what you can do to show you’re serious about keeping your team safe.
Have your first interview via webcam. Especially at this stage, there’s no good reason to bring someone new into your early education bubble. Digital interviews are also more flexible, so it’s easier to accommodate your interviewee’s own schedule.
Make the in-person visit count. If you’re inviting a candidate to visit your setting, that first impression counts. Be sure that your team and the candidate are all on the same page in terms of keeping good distance, wearing masks and getting tested beforehand if you can. As far as safety goes, this is where good communication comes into play.
Write up a document detailing your safety measures. Think about how you adapted at the start of the pandemic, and all the things you’re still doing differently today. What new tools or procedures are you using? Which daily routines are new, and which are on hold? At some point in your interviews, you can expect to discuss this at length — so it’s best to reflect on it a bit now.
Has the pandemic changed what we’re looking for in an early educator?
In a word, no.
We’re still looking for the same people as before: The same warmth, the same creativity, the same willingness to read the same picture book five times in an hour (and still do all the voices).
What is new, though, is the ways we can see if someone has those traits from a conversation. As Sophie Haylock points out, the pandemic can help frame people’s ability to step up and handle change and pressure.
“It’s important to talk to people about what’s changed for them this year. What have they learned, or how are they doing things differently? Has this period made them look for different things in life? Reflective questions like those can speak pretty deeply to an applicant’s character,” she says.
As you head into your interviews, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
Don’t get too carried away with the CV. Being great on paper is different than being great on the floor. Focus first on your candidate as a person — how they make you feel, and the energy or attitude they project. If you really wish they had some qualification, you can always train them for it later down the line.
Communication skills are more important than before. When we made the leap into remote learning early in 2020, it marked a technological shift for the sector. Parents now expect to be in closer touch with their children and caregivers during the day — so it’s worth making sure your candidate is skilled with communication and management software like Famly.
Ask about the projects they finished, not the ones they started. If they’ve got a certification course listed on their CV, did they see it all the way through? What about with the projects or hobbies they might have started during quarantine? Especially if you’re investing in CPD courses for your team, that sense of commitment is a big one.
Where should you be posting your job notices in 2021?
The pandemic hasn’t really changed where we’re looking for new candidates. Just like before, we’re seeing most candidates come from two places: Designated job-posting websites, and social media.
But which one’s best for you? Let’s take a quick look at our options.
Job posting boards. Websites like Indeed and ZipRecruiter are still at the forefront here. You’ll still get plenty of applicants for your listings — but since so many are looking for jobs right now, you might get flooded. That makes more work for you as you sift through it all to find the best candidates.
Social media. Facebook and Instagram can be more effective in certain instances, especially if you’re looking to hire younger educators who will want to stick around and grow at your setting. The challenge here though, is this all hinges on you already having a strong and active social media presence for your child care setting. If that doesn’t sound like you, it’s either time to start investing in your social media presence – or choose a different avenue.
Especially now, picking the right staff matters
This pandemic speaks to the importance of why you want to build a strong team in the first place. It sounds cliché, but having a tight-knit team and a close sense of community is a big factor in how you’ll fare when the going gets tough.
And of course, that starts with hiring the right people. So it’s worth reiterating that right now, it’s worth putting the extra time and effort into your hiring process.
Of course, that attention shouldn’t end once the hiring process is wrapped up. As Vivvi’s Lauren Gill points out, it’s an important chance for child care directors and owners to reflect on what they offer their educators — and how they can make early education a lifelong field.
“So many educators are just absolutely compelled to do this work, no matter the conditions. But I think we need to think less about who we can hire that can endure and make sacrifices, and much more about how we can make early education a career,” Lauren says. “What can we do to give the same resources and opportunities for growth that we see in other sectors? I think it’s a tragedy that educators sometimes have to choose between their passion and a comfortable life. It’s our duty as program and business leaders to make sure educators don’t have to make that choice.”
Official Danish Government Reopening Advice
Guidance from the Danish Health Ministry, translated in full to English.
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