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Revitalising Early Years: Apprenticeship Growth Signals Hope Amidst Recruitment Crisis

Across April, VTCT is exploring the challenges facing the Early Years sector and how we can collaborate to find solutions to revitalise it. Our deep dive will culminate in an hour-long discussion featuring insights from industry experts and actionable takeaways to enhance the sector. To secure your place, sign up here.

As the Early Years and Childcare sector grapples with both anticipation and anxiety surrounding the increase in free childcare hours, recent apprenticeship data offers renewed optimism for the industry’s future. Analysis of Government data reveals a promising upward trend in individuals embarking on their journey in the Early Years sector, in particular, through the Level 3 Early Years Educator apprenticeship standard, a critical entry route for staff.

Positive trends

According to the latest data, the number of new starters on entry-level apprenticeship routes has more than tripled over the last three years, from 6,590 in 2019/2020 to 21,630 by the end of 2023. Even more promising, early figures for this year indicate a continuation of this trend, with one key entry level apprenticeship, the Level 3 Early Years Educator, emerging as the most popular of all apprenticeships standard nationwide, attracting 7,770 new recruits by the start of 2024.

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Addressing recruitment challenges

Growth in new apprenticeship starts couldn’t come at a more crucial time, coinciding with the implementation of the Government’s first stage of extending free childcare hours. Concerns about recruitment and retention have resurfaced across the sector, with an estimated 40,000 additional workers required to meet demand for the full rollout of extended childcare hours. Against this backdrop, the growing interest in apprenticeships becomes more crucial to increasing workforce numbers in the industry, especially given that Level 3 qualified staff make up an average of 59% of the workforce across private, voluntary, or independent (PVI) Early Years settings.

Rising numbers serve as a beacon of hope for the Early Years sector to encourage qualified talent into the industry and demonstrate the potential of vocational education as a long-term solution to the ongoing workforce crisis.

Efforts have already been initiated to make apprenticeships more attractive to new recruits, with Government funding poised to increase by £1,000 for the most popular route as well as a campaign to highlight the benefits of entering the sector.  However, with 35% of settings saying they would need to limit the number of places they offered unless there was more support to recruit and retain staff, VTCT still urges the Government to consider further interventions to support people entering the sector.

What is the sector saying?


Mark Child, Early Years Specialist and Head of Stakeholder and Customer Engagement at VTCT:

The Early Years sector is currently grappling with an undeniable recruitment and retention crisis, posing a significant threat to the quality of care and education for young children. The statistics indicate a growing interest in joining the sector, especially considering the dire shortage of staff it currently faces.

Whilst we welcome the increase in funding, we hope for broader financial support across all apprenticeship routes. This approach ensures that Early Years settings can offer genuine career progression and job satisfaction to their staff.

Additionally, collaboration between the Government, education, and employers is vital to tackling issues such as wage disparity and limited career opportunities. At VTCT, we’ve established an Early Years Skills Advisory Board bringing together these key sector voices to understand challenges and identify a path forward for the sector.

Gill Mason, Head of Training and Development at Kids Planet Day Nurseries, one of the largest nursery chains in the UK:

At Kids Planet, we recognise the transformative impact apprentices can have at every stage in the early years sector.

Apprentices are vital for strong, skilled and diverse workforce and are of utmost importance in the sector’s efforts to alleviate the recruitment crisis.

We are committed to providing a pipeline of new talent and ideas coming into the business and the continued development of apprentices will ensure the long-term success of the early years sector for future generations.

Actionable Insights and Solutions

Join our webinar and hear from industry-leading guests as they share collaborative strategies for revitalising the Early Years sector, overcoming recruitment challenges, and nurturing growth. Secure your space now.

If you’re looking for an Early Years focused EPAO who understands the sector’s complexities and tailors solutions to your needs, explore VTCT’s apprenticeship services.