In light of both current shortages and future increased demand for early childhood educators, Colorado is establishing a new state agency to provide apprenticeships for aspiring childcare specialists.
In July 2020, Colorado passed HB 20-1053 to improve career and educational pathways for early childhood educators.
“The state has decided to invest in this apprenticeship pathway as one initiative to address the workforce shortage in early childhood programs,” Apprenticeship Program Manager Jessica Bernett Knight said.
In total, roughly $5 million is being dedicated to fund the apprenticeship initiative through Sept. 2024, Bernett Knight explained.
Over the next decade, statewide demand for early childhood educators is anticipated to increase by nearly 20%, which will likely outpace the need for K-12 educators, according to the Colorado Children’s Campaign.
“With universal preschool coming it's really important that we are investing the way we are in the early childhood workforce here in Colorado,” Bernett Knight said.
In April, Gov. Jared Polis signed the Colorado universal preschool bill into law, which provides families with 4-year-olds access to free preschool starting in the fall of 2023.
Bernett Knight noted that the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment is launching a new state agency to oversee the Childcare Development Specialist Apprenticeship program.
“Once that is official and set up, all the apprentices will be registered through the state agency instead of federally,” she said.
Colorado Children’s Campaign reported that approximately 70% of child care center directors listed sourcing qualified staff as a primary challenge, with an average of 2-3 months required to fill openings.
“The data that backs up the apprenticeship pathway is not brand new in the early childhood field, but it's gaining popularity nationwide,” she said.
In addition to providing an efficient means to fill empty staff slots, the apprenticeship program would permit participants paid employment while obtaining credentials, Bernett Knight said
“There's so many different models and pathways,” she said.
Apprentice candidates can work towards an associate or bachelor degree, as well as train to qualify as a childcare center director.
“You could follow any of those paths and each of those has a unique starting place,” she explained. “It's a very flexible opportunity.”
Colorado Children’s Campaign reported that the state currently has sufficient licensed early care and education capacity to account for only about 60% of the nearly quarter million children below 6-years-old with both parents employed.
“You could be working full time while gaining your education,” she said. “It's required that you're paid for your work and that the hours you spend caring for other people's children count toward this credential.”
Regardless of the new State Apprenticeship Agency getting underway, the program will be supported by federal stimulus funding, which provides an array of stipends for participants.
“We have stipends for the apprentice, if they need help paying for books or whatever the case may be,” she said.
To qualify for free Childcare Development Specialist Apprenticeship program applicants must be at least 16 years of age and either currently employed or willing to work full time for an early childhood program. The program also requires a two-year commitment.
“The overarching theme is lifting all parties up to make this path as efficient and effective as possible,” Bernett Knight said.