Photo: Micaela Bedell for Strategies for Children

“Within every challenge lies vast opportunity,” David Jordan, president of the Seven Hills Foundation & Affiliates, writes in a new CommonWealth magazine article.

The challenge Jordan is referring to is the shortage of early education and care staff members.

The opportunity to address this shortage, he says, is to set up an apprenticeship program.

Jordan explains, “The path to becoming a credentialed Child Development Associate, which enables one to become a preschool teacher and, with additional training, a lead teacher, is difficult and costly.”

And asking budding early educators to leave work and then go to school at the end of the day ignores the fact that many are parents who need to get home to their own children.

As Jordan explains, an apprenticeship program would address this problem:

“An on-the-job – we call it ‘learn while you earn’ – training program coupled with virtual classroom education form the core of an apprenticeship program that is a vital way to encourage retention and promotion in the child care workforce. Onsite mentoring provides the professional support for the apprentice’s adaptation of classroom learning to practice.”

“Apprenticeship is not an untested concept,” Jordan explains. Seven Hills already has a program.

“Through state grants, Family Services of Central Mass., an affiliate of Seven Hills Foundation, has developed an apprenticeship program. In partnership with child care providers, it is currently working with two cohorts comprising 28 child care employees.”

Positive feedback includes child care center directors reporting improved performance as well as “monthly reports collected from on-site mentors [that] document the growth in apprentices’ competencies. Within a year, we will see these entry-level employees become teachers and, for some, lead teachers. The practical effect of people growing and staying in the profession is greater capacity and improved quality of services.”

Seven Hills also works with a community college, so that its apprentices can earn college credit. Apprentices “receive up to 150 hours of technical classroom instruction, over 2,000 on-the-job training hours (equivalent to one year of employment) and – through our dedicated community college partner – six credits toward completion of their degree. We regularly see apprentices gaining the confidence to continue their educational journey.”

“In fact, the personal and professional development that we witness is transformational. We see apprentices leveling up, acquiring new skills, and becoming more capable at teaching their young students and creating a calm, nurturing environment in a setting that could otherwise be chaotic and less educational.”

The need for these programs is significant and could strengthen the economic position of women. As this “Marketplace” article explains, “Apprenticeships have traditionally focused on male-dominated jobs in trades like construction, electrical and plumbing, fields with above-average wages. But a handful of states are now certifying apprenticeships in early childhood education, including California.”

Early childhood apprenticeship programs also exist in other states, among them New Hampshire and Pennsylvania.

Now, Jordan writes, it’s time for Massachusetts to take more action. Massachusetts can build on its grant funding investment by “replicating and permanently funding the apprenticeship model.”

“Solving the capacity problem will not only make child care availability more abundant,” Jordan writes, “it will create new career mobility opportunities for some of the lowest-paid workers in our Commonwealth.”