Because we can’t take our Early Learning Nation Studio on the road during this time, stay tuned as ELN recaps Top Takeaways from important conversations, town halls, webinars and virtual events from the Early Learning field. And visit our Early Learning Nation channel on YouTube for interviews with leaders from education, child development, business, politics and more.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s #TalentForward virtual series focuses on education and workforce pathways for all Americans. Its August 17 webinar brought together business and policy experts to share their insights into and hopes for joining the puzzle pieces of work and family in the post-Covid era. Moderated by Cheryl Oldham, the Chamber Foundation’s senior vice president of Education and Workforce, the panel comprised:
Lilia Vergara, Director of Human Resources, Bronner’s
Alessandra Lezama, who invoked her own experience as a single mom as the genesis of TOOTRiS, noted a groundswell of enthusiasm for reinventing child care, making it convenient, affordable and on demand. She called child care “the glue that holds communities together.”
1. Child care is on everyone’s minds. Oldham said she’s never seen this much focus on the issue. Citing the Center for American Progress’s research into child care deserts, she noted the particularly steep decline in small, family-run care businesses even before Covid. While noting that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to fix the problem, Oldham said that employers are trying new approaches and the media is reporting on the crisis like never before, even while parents are still wrestling with what’s on the horizon. Lezama, who invoked her own experience as a single mom as the genesis of TOOTRiS, noted a groundswell of enthusiasm for reinventing child care, making it convenient, affordable and on demand. She called child care “the glue that holds communities together.”
2. Businesses are stepping up. Well, some are. For example, Dr. Bronner’s, the organic products manufacturer based in Vista, Calif., has about half of its 280 employees working on site and half working remotely. Some have part-time or nontraditional shifts, and the TOOTRiS platform offers flexible child care solutions, which are subsidized by the company. Lezama praised Dr. Bronner’s for getting the most out of their workforce by recognizing that family supports make better workers, while Vergara noted the impact on retention—which, considering it can cost 150% of a salary to replace an employee—profoundly affects the bottom line. Solving child care jams reduces anxiety and contributes to overall job satisfaction.
3. Re-engaging moms is a priority. The trend of women leaving the workforce during the pandemic is making it harder for businesses to attract talent. The National Women’s Law Center reports that women lost 140,000 net jobs in December 2020 alone, with Black and Latina women hit hardest, while a YouGov survey found 28% of women (compared to 10% of men) with kids under 18 in the household have temporarily or permanently left the workforce to become a primary caregiver to children. Making child care more affordable is a big part of bringing women back to work; according the Care.com, about 55% of families report spending at least $10,000 a year on child care.
4. Don’t expect much progress at the federal level. “Child care is a workforce issue, regardless of where you are on the political spectrum,” Oldham maintained. Kaloi said that both sides of the aisle recognize that U.S. companies need to stay competitive and that millennials expect more from their employers, and yet bipartisan momentum hasn’t materialized for sweeping, sustained change.
5. States can lead the way. Given the federal paralysis, Kaloi said states have an opportunity to build programs that expand the pipeline of child care providers, which could make their services more affordable. “There is agreement,” she said, “that we don’t have the workforce we need.” McCloskey said she sees hope in using technology to make finding child care easier without jeopardizing quality. She’s also an advocate of reducing excessive regulations and elevating solutions that maximize parent choice.
Early Learning Nation columnist Mark Swartz writes for and about nonprofit organizations. Author of the children's books Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, Lost Flamingo, Magpie Bridge and The Giant of the Flood as well as a few novels, he lives in Takoma Park, MD, with his wife and two children.