Recruiting more men and ethnic minority staff could help the childcare sector find the 11,000 new workers it needs to fulfil a flagship Scottish Government pledge to double the hours of free care.
Ministers have committed to increasing the amount of funded childcare for eligible two-year-olds as well as all three and four-year-olds from the current provision of 600 hours a year to 1,140 hours a year by 2020.
To allow this to happen, the early learning and childcare sector will need take on up to 11,000 new workers.
A new skills investment plan said the recruitment of workers “remains a challenge” for the industry and said the demand for additional workers for early learning and childcare (ELC) “will only be met by widening the scope of recruitment and utilising non-traditional pathways”.
The plan was drawn up by Skills Development Scotland (SDS) and others, including the Scottish Government, the Care Inspectorate, the Care and Learning Alliance and Early Years Scotland
It said: “A persistent challenge is recruiting and retaining people to work in ELC and to diversify the workforce in terms of age, ethnicity, gender and disability.
“Continuing to attract people into the sector is a priority and there is a need to broaden approach to recruitment.
“Attracting people from a black and minority ethnic background, career changers, parents and returners to the sector also offer potential solutions to the recruitment challenge.”
Figures showed almost 39,000 people working in the sector in 2016 – a rise of 5% on 2010. A previous increase in free hours is thought to be the reason.
The report said bringing men into the sector was a challenge as the workforce “remains overwhelmingly female”, with women making up 97% of staff.
Meanwhile more remote and rural areas have their own challenges attracting staff as the pool of potential workers is smaller.
SDS said childcare is ” often perceived by potential recruits as an unattractive employment destination offering low status, gendered assumptions about the nature of the work and employment terms and conditions”.
The report said: “A targeted and focused approach is needed to dispel myths, and tackle negative perceptions and stereotypes associated with the sector.
“More men and people from diverse backgrounds must be encouraged to enter and remain in the sector.”
SDS chief executive Damien Yeates said: “The skills investment plan recognises that the early learning and childcare sector has the ability to meet growing demand for a skilled workforce.
“There are challenges to meet to ensure growth at such an ambitious level in the sector.
“The plan identifies areas that need to be addressed, such as the lack of flexible learning opportunities; a need to attract more candidates from diverse backgrounds including males, those aged over 25 and people from minority and ethnic backgrounds; and to ensure the demand is met with the creation of a high quality skilled workforce.”