The Future of Work Begins with a City’s Youngest Residents

As city leaders across the country develop strategies to prepare residents for changing job trends, here is one strategy you might not have considered: early childhood education. While young children may seem a far cry from our workforce, there are several reasons why any city leader preparing for the future of work in their communities should be thinking about early childhood.

To move toward the vision of the early care and education professions as jobs of the future, for the last two years NLC has provided in-depth technical assistance to a cohort of cities to help local leaders increase recognition of the importance of the early childhood workforce in their communities and implement programs and policies to better support and prepare that workforce.

NLC is excited to now launch a new initiative to continue this important body of work. With continued support from the Foundation for Child Development, NLC will create an organizing tool to provide specific action steps cities can take to support for the early childhood workforce and make the case for why this workforce is key to preparing their community for the future of work.

  1. Early childhood programs build a strong future workforce. It is well known that brain development starts prenatally and is 90 percent complete by age 5. Neuroscience reveals a critical window of opportunity in which early experiences shape children’s physical, social and emotional development. This development builds the foundation for lifelong skills such as problem solving, emotional intelligence and communication. Yet too many children lack access to high-quality early learning environments that promote early development, particularly children from low-income backgrounds. Without these opportunities, children are less likely to be reading at grade level by third grade, less likely to graduate from high school and more likely to be involved in the criminal justice system. If we want our children to possess the skills needed to meet the changing demands of work, serve in the military and help our country compete globally, the work to prepare children for future success must start before children are even born.
  2. Early childhood programs are part of a city’s infrastructure. Any elected local leader will tell you that a sustainable system of infrastructure is integral to a modern economy. Just like roads and bridges allow parents to make it to work in the morning, the large percentage of the workforce who are parents could not be productive employees without the peace of mind that comes with knowing one’s child is in a high-quality early learning environment. Both parents work in 65 percent of families with children under six, and too many of these parents struggle to maintain stable employment because they lack access to reliable, safe and affordable child care. This in turn impacts a city’s economy. Nationally, $4.4 billion in economic productivity is lost each year due to employee absenteeism resulting from child care break-downs. As we think about the need to update our nation’s infrastructure, we should think about the early care and education system as a key component of that infrastructure.
  3. Early childhood jobs are job of the future – let’s make sure they are quality jobs. NLC’s report about the impact of automation lists preschool teachers among the top seven jobs that technology cannot easily replace. Care and education jobs, such as those in early childhood education, cannot easily be automated or outsourced. However, too often early childhood educators lack the compensation, preparation and opportunities for career advancement to truly make these forward-thinking jobs of the future. All of the benefits of early childhood education are described above are not possible without a prepared, skilled, and well-compensated early childhood workforce. The median hourly wage for a child care teacher is $10.72 and systems of professional advancement and professional development are patchwork at best. We need to think systemically to increase pathways and credential opportunities for early childhood educators.

Local elected officials are already leading the way by prioritizing the early childhood workforce and explicitly connecting investments in early childhood education to the future of work. Whether it is convening focus groups of parents and providers to gather input or allotting city budget dollars for scholarships for teachers to increase their credentials, there are numerous small and large steps city leaders can take to prepare their workforce and improve the quality of early learning experiences.

Stay informed about this work throughout the year here on CitiesSpeak and look for the release of NLC’s early childhood workforce organizing  tool in the fall of 2019.

alana_readyAbout the author: Alana Eichner is the Early Childhood Senior Associate in NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education, and Families.