Careers Guide: Early years careers - Essential advice on jobs in early years

The early years sector needs more male staff and management staff trained to graduate level. Simon Vevers finds out how to get ahead in the sector.

1. Gain experience of different settings.

Tracey Stanton started out as a nursery nurse, became a teaching assistant and is now a play leader at a large after-school club in Coventry. She says: "Experience is important and I would urge people when they are starting out to do some volunteer work with different types of settings."

She believes the different jobs she has taken on have helped her in her current role. "My previous roles as a nursery nurse and teaching assistant mean that I understand what children go through during their school day before they come to us," she adds.

Jane Bentley, a nursery manager in Derbyshire, says that a member of her staff is complementing her pursuit of graduate-level qualifications at Sheffield University by gaining experience in the baby room and will then go to another setting to work with a different age group.

2. Being a man doesn't rule you out of a career in childcare.

In fact, the sector is crying out for more male nursery staff. James Bragg, who works at a nursery in Derbyshire, says: "I came to the nursery when I was doing my NVQ Level 2 in early years and childcare. They were enthusiastic about me doing it because the government wants more men in childcare." He says that it's important to be patient, outgoing and enjoy working with children. "There are also lots of single mums whose children don't get to see dad and they need a male role model," he says.

3. If you want to become a childminder, do plenty of research and consider setting up a website to market yourself.

Lisa Finley, a childminder in Peterborough for the past eight years, says would-be childminders should first try to establish whether there is a need for childcare in their area. "The growth of after-school clubs and funded pre-school places together with extended maternity leave mean there is less demand than there used to be," she says. "Most of my enquiries come through my website now."

4. Consider training to graduate level.

The government wants graduate-level early years professionals in all full daycare settings by 2015. Jane Bentley, who became a nursery manager after working as an early years teacher, was one of the first to achieve Early Years Professional Status after completing a three-month fast-track course. "Even as an experienced practitioner, I have found it very useful," she says. "It emphasises the need and importance of reflection and evaluation, looking in detail at what you are doing, why you are doing it and how you do it. It is raising the whole status of working with children in the early years."

She adds that while the financial rewards may not be great when you first enter early years and childcare, you do get the chance to see children grow and develop and there are more opportunities than ever before for advancing your career.

5. Remember you're part of the wider children's workforce.

Chris Cummins, manager of the Village Sure Start children's centre in Folkestone, says: "What is interesting and exciting about our work is that we are dealing with a multi-agency team from teachers to health professionals, including social workers, looking at opportunities to develop services to improve the lives of children."

In Folkestone, a team meets three times a year and brings together all these different professionals. "Looking around the room, I can see how each of us can work successfully together and help each other with a variety of issues," he says.

"A lot of my colleagues are either health visitors, from social services or from a business background and we work together well because children's centres are leaders of this new multi-agency approach."

THE EARLY YEARS WORKFORCE OF THE FUTURE

The Department for Children, Schools and Families set out proposals for the childcare and early years sector in the document Building Brighter Futures: Next Steps for the Children's Workforce, published in April 2008.

The proposals included the government committing to spending £305m so that every full daycare setting has a graduate-level professional leading the service by 2015. The government is also planning to extend free nursery education to all two-year-olds, which will have major staffing and funding implications for nurseries.

The Children's Workforce Development Council is working on a plan to boost the number of early years staff with a Level 3 qualification. It is expected that the additional investment will lead to significant new job opportunities.

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