Jae Fraser - Attracting more men to the early childhood workforce

Published on Tuesday, 16 April 2019
Last updated on Thursday, 01 October 2020

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According to news.com.au and the ABS, less than one per cent of all early childhood education and care workers in Australia are male. When you consider recent progress with regards to gender diversity in the workforce and the uptake in paternity leave, this begs the question, why is this figure is still so low?

It appears there are still a number of barriers for men wanting to enter the early childhood profession. And yet, the benefits of children learning from both male and female educators in the early development years are huge. Here are some key insights into the issue, including comments by Jae Fraser of Little Scholars in Queensland, who offers advice on how to shift the balance in your centre.

What are the barriers for men in the early childhood sector?

While it's widely known that teachers are highly instrumental in nurturing, educating and shaping the next generation, the vast majority of educators, particularly in early childhood, are female. It just doesn't make sense for children to have role models in the classroom that are only one gender, but unfortunately, it's not that easy for men to step up to the task due to:

  • The social stigma – While it's an archaic school of thought, looking after children is still considered a woman's job, paid or not, due to their assumed ability to be more nurturing. Many men feel they might be ridiculed by family or friends, or not be considered as a suitable candidate when applying for jobs.
  • Not getting paid enough – The gender pay gap ever present, making it harder for men to forfeit higher salaries to come and work in the early education sector which is undervalued in terms of wages.
  • Workers facing scrutiny – With social awareness higher than ever for child abuse and paedophilia, unfortunately men working with children in any capacity can often come under a lot of suspicion.

It's not just Australia

It appears that the lack of men in early childhood is a global issue. In 1996, the European Commission Network on Childcare set a target for male workers within the ECEC sector to reach 20 per cent by 2020.

Time is obviously almost up and yet only one country is even near close to that – Norway, which is sitting at 10 per cent. Turkey isn't far behind on 5 per cent, while Australia at 3 per cent is doing only slightly better than the UK which has only reached 2 per cent for number of men employed in their early childhood education system, as reported by The West Australian and The Guardian.

Tackling the odds for a rewarding career

One male who did defy social stigma and obstacles to successfully work in the early childhood industry in Australia is Jae Fraser of Little Scholars in Queensland.

From an early age Jae was told he was good with children, and even volunteered at his aunt's child care centre during the school holidays, where his love of education began. After a traineeship at an early childhood education centre and completing his Bachelor of Education degree, he then worked at various places until eventually fulfilling a lifelong dream by forming his own early learning centre, Little Scholars.

Although it wasn't an easy path that he chose to take.

"When I first started my career, I was the only male educator in a group of 100+ centres. This was a little tough and daunting at the beginning, but I was accepted warmly by all and was able to bring different qualities to the centre that were welcomed," says Jae.

He did however experience some negativity from some of the families at one of the centres he worked at.

"I saw this as a challenge and worked extra hard with these families and within 3-4 months these parents were calling me Mr Jae," he adds. "This wasn't something I asked or expected but I think I had worked hard to earn their respect, and this was their way of showing they respected me. It was especially funny having the fathers calling me Mr Jae!"

What are the benefits of having male educators?

Jae says the advantages of having men actively caring for and educating our young children in an early learning setting are huge and for this reason he is always on the lookout for males to employ in his centre.

"I truly feel male educators can bring different skills and qualities to a team and a service.

I've also seen some incredible results from children from single parent families, or children who may not have male role models in their lives for whatever reason, so it's a brilliant opportunity for children to have this access," he says.

"Some years we have ended up with classrooms with a large number of boys, so the ability to kick a footy or do other typically male activities with a male educator brings so much joy to these boys too.

It's important that children grow up seeing both men and women in care giving roles to help increase wider gender diversity in the workforce. They also need to be able to learn from educators of both genders to further develop their range of skills, knowledge, social awareness and emotional wellbeing."

How can you attract male employees to your service?

While there are fewer men than women actively training in early childhood education and applying for jobs, there are some out there if you know where to look, according to Jae.

"Working with the local Registered Training Organisations (RTOs) is a great place to start as they can often connect you directly to people studying," says Jae.

He does admit though that it's hard to find them.

"I think we need to educate the community to remove the stigma of men in child care," he continues.

"The representation of the sector is certainly improving, and the community is seeing the value of early education and the important role that educators play in children's lives. So, with this, hopefully more men will start to see teaching in early education as the same as teaching in schools, and this will hopefully make the sector a little more attractive."

"If you're keen to employ more male educators but are finding it difficult, another alternative is to hire or have males visit your place of service in other capacities. So, keep a look out for, and encourage, males in roles such as casual sports instructors, music teachers, guest speakers, work experience people and ask more fathers to be involved in their child’s activities and excursions in your centre," says Jae.

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