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Michigan is investing in early child care education workers through apprenticeships

The learn-and-earn workforce model could fill the need for teachers and ease the burden on working families

The need for early child care education professionals is critical around the country. The COVID pandemic forced thousands of centers to close, with many never reopening. The number of staff hasn’t recovered either, with the industry losing more than 7% of its teachers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

With fewer options, working parents are having to choose between earning a paycheck or staying home and caring for their young children. The impact is measurable, both for employers and for the children. A report from Child Development finds that access to quality early child care education prior to Kindergarten results in more college graduates and people earning higher salaries at age 26.

In Michigan, to help fill that demand, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has invested $2 million through the state’s Child Care Innovation Fund to create registered apprenticeships to ease the crisis for teachers, workers, employers and to improve outcomes for young children.

“Access to quality, affordable early learning opportunities sets kids up for long term success,” Whitmer said in statement announcing the investment.

Apprenticeship give people wanting to work in a field hands-on experience while they earn income paid by their employers. Twelve members of the state’s workforce development association, Michigan Works! Association, have received portions of the funding which is being used to develop the apprenticeships, provide educational support, and increase the pay for the workers.

“The child care workforce – teaching staff – are some of the lowest paid workers in America. They typically have no benefits. They often have young children of their own. Over half qualify for income-based assistance programs,” says Joan Blough, MSW, senior director of the Child Care Innovation Fund.

“Registered apprenticeship is a strategy that is known and trusted to meet an employer’s need for skilled workers,” she adds.

Developing a Scalable Earn-and-Learn Initiative

Each organization receiving funds will design its own program, submit it to the U.S. Department of Labor for approval, and manage the program.

For example, Michigan Works! West Central (MWWC), which serves six rural counties, received $230,000, one of the largest funding awards.

“There is a huge need for reliable and affordable child care throughout Michigan,” says Shelly Keene, executive director for MWWC. “It is a barrier for all of our local employers to retain their employees – the lack of child care. They may not be able to have two parents in the home working. One may need to stay home because of child care.”

MWWC has developed partnerships with child care providers and early childhood organizations to create apprenticeship standards and outline trainings needed to successfully complete the program. Monthly meetings with child care center providers and community action agencies provided insight on what’s needed to fill talent gaps.

Shelly Keene, executive director, Michigan Works! West Central

The first apprenticeship Keene and her team developed is for a child development associate (CDA) certificate. The process will take a student a year to year-and-a-half and include both classroom experience and on-the-job training. Keene expects early enrollees will already be working at an in-home child care so their ongoing employment will provide the on-the-job training.

Apprentices will get paid while working and can take advantage of scholarship or training dollars if needed to attend West Shore, Montcalm, Muskegon, or Bay Mills community colleges for the classroom portion. Support services will cover costs like mileage reimbursement or car repair. Resources including food banks, counseling or, appropriately, child care, are also available.

“One important thing with the apprenticeship is that their supervisor is more than likely going to be their mentor because it’s a requirement for all apprentices to have a mentor to work with them,” Keene says. “They could have even recommended the individual enroll to be an apprentice, so it’s very closely tied.”

As a requirement of the program, apprentices will earn a wage increase upon completion. The CDA is also a pathway to earning a bachelor’s degree that can lead to becoming a pre-school teacher or center director.

“Registered apprenticeship provides a ‘frame’ that is respected and understood for how to develop people for a high-skill, high-paying profession. It also recognizes the importance of the ‘journeyman’ role,” says Blough.

With the DOL’s recent approval of MWWC’s registered apprenticeship program, Keene says it’s too early to set numbers for success rates. But her office will track the 12 months after the apprenticeship is earned. MWWC anticipates the first cohort will launch in the spring.