For the first time since 2018, the Alberta government is increasing a wage top-up program for early childhood educators (ECEs) in the province with a large infusion of federal funds.
In a news release Thursday, the province said the existing top-ups will increase by up to two dollars per hour starting in January.
With this change, the lowest level ECEs — who are required to complete a short online course to be certified — will make up to $20.89. The most qualified ECEs, Level 3, will make up to $28.17.
ECEs who worked in October and November will also receive a one-time payment.
Those who averaged more than 30 hours a week and continue to work in December will be eligible for a $900 payment. ECEs who worked an average of fewer than 30 hours a week will receive $450.
Child care groups say during the pandemic, about Alberta 4,000 ECEs left the industry and never came back. Susan Cake with Child Care Now Alberta told Global News Wednesday she estimates there are about 16,000 ECEs working in Alberta right now.
“We need a plan for training more ECEs that works for people who are in urban as well as rural centres,” Cake said Wednesday.
“People who work as ECEs often cannot afford childcare for their own children, so it’s hard to have a family and stay in the sector. And it’s hard to stay in rural Alberta as well,” she added.
Cake said this funding is “the least the government could do.”
“It does not address the lack of wage floor for ECEs and it does not solve the structural issues with staff attraction and retention,” she said in a statement Thursday.
The one-time payment for ECEs represents an investment of about $13.3 million in federal funding. The Alberta government will invest $2.72 million in provincial funding for the same one-time payments for certified ECEs working in out-of-school care programs.
The increased wage top-ups for ECEs represent a $165.5 million investment in federal funding through to the end of fiscal year 2025-26. For the same increased wage top-ups for certified ECEs working in out-of-school care programs, the Alberta government will invest about $22.4 million in funding.
Bradley Lafortune, executive director of Public Interest Alberta, said while the wage top-up and one-time payment are welcome news, low wages and inadequate benefits are driving ECEs — mostly women, he says — away from the field.
“The provincial government must establish a salary grid with competitive wages and benefits. Anything less is a band-aid and won’t solve the workforce challenges we’re seeing in early learning and childcare,” said Lafortune.
Amanda Rosset with the Association of Early Childhood Educators of Alberta said the $174-million investment is a good start in addressing problems in the profession.
”Better compensation for early childhood educators is a step in the right direction to transform the early learning and child care workforce into a recognized profession,” Rosset said.
“Early childhood educators are the heart and soul of a high-quality early learning and care system and deserve to be well supported for the very important work they do.”
In October, the paid hours eligible for wage top-ups for front-line certified ECEs were expanded, making all paid hours eligible for the existing wage top-ups.
Also in October, the enrolment capacity was more than doubled for the free Level 1 child care orientation course.
— With files from Emily Mertz, Global News