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Associate feature: Bright future for men in early years

Image credit: SFC

Associate feature: Bright future for men in early years

By August 2020, there will be 11,000 new jobs in Early Learning and Childcare across Scotland, thanks to the Scottish Government’s commitment to expand ELC hours.

Yet up to half of this new workforce could be missing in action. That’s because while males make up roughly half of Scotland’s population, they are just 4% of the current Early Learning & Childcare (ELC) workforce.

Like other gender gaps, this issue is not unique to Scotland. But with skills gaps and demand in the sector growing, we can’t afford to limit recruitment to one half of the population. More importantly, this disparity does not reflect life in Scotland in 2019, where men are increasingly involved in every aspect of their children’s’ care.

Fortunately the tide is turning. Building on the Scottish Government’s Developing the Young Workforce strategy, the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) been working to support every young person to realise their full potential.

Through our Gender Action Plan, SFC has been working with colleges and universities to tackle the female gender gap in STEM subjects, but also the male gender gap in subjects like nursing and childcare.

We are supporting national efforts to recruit, train and retain greater numbers of high quality staff into the Early Years sector since 2015. Most recently we have been monitoring progress of the £50,000 Men in Early Years Challenge Fund.

Launched by Minister for Children and Young People Maree Todd in 2018, West Lothian College and Inverness College UHI successfully bid to pilot innovative new approaches to increasing the male ELC workforce.

Inverness College UHI and its partners across the University of the Highlands and Islands chose to approach the challenge by taking positive action in their recruitment and anticipated enrolling five men onto the course.

However, following partnership wide marketing, they started their CHAMP course with 12 men from the region covering  Inverness, North Highland, Rothesay and Dunoon, their ages ranging from school leavers to career changers in their 50’s. One of these men find the all-male cohort approach so supportive that he travelled over 200 miles each to participate, and the next farthest travelled over 60.

Staff were blown away by the levels of interest in this introductory certificated 11 week evening course with several of the participants continuing onto the NC and HNC in AY 2019-20 as the current male HNC students are very much in demand by the sector.

The enrolment figures from academic year 2017/18 allow us to estimate that since 2014/15 the volume of male students enrolled in this curriculum area in colleges has increased by 42% to just under 1,000.

This is against an expansion of the whole sector, but significantly the proportion of male students has increased as well as the overall volume. Male students made up 8.04% of the overall student population studying in this area in 2017/18, up from 7.56% in 2014/15. The same trend is true for all under-represented groups by ethnicity and by disability which is fantastic news.

So what does this tell us? Contrary to some beliefs, this data tells us men do want to work as Early Years professionals, and that they are keen on training in this sector. We also know that younger male students make up the majority of enrolments in colleges, although older career changers are retraining too.

Where action has been taken, the numbers of male students have increased and this means that we can and should do more. 

How we do that, and also celebrate increasing diversity in ELC, will be the main topic of discussion at a Men in Early Years seminar co-hosted by the Scottish Government, Skills Development Scotland and SFC in Stirling this week.

The commitment to expand ELC hours is about making Scotland the best place in the world to grow up. That can only happen with a diverse workforce. Perhaps a generation that hasn’t been raised on Carry On films, isn’t as blinkered by gender-stereotypes as previous generations might have been and the future for men in early years is bright?

Alison Malcolm is a policy officer at the Scottish Funding Council

This piece was sponsored by SFC

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