Childcare sector is no child's play
IF ANY phenomenon rivalled the bubble-tea frenzy once, it was the race to enter the early-childhood education sector.
Childcare operators sprouted everywhere. But now, the business is getting tougher.
The industry also faces a shortage of pre-school teachers and a high attrition rate, said Dr T. Chandroo, chairman of the Association of Early Childhood and Training Services, and of Modern Montessori International, which has 30 centres here.
Asked if the industry is still lucrative, given the demand for early-childhood education, Dr Chandroo told My Paper: "Maybe once, but no longer. It was once because they just blindly charged very high fees, but, today, the Government is very concerned over affordability.
"At one time, it was the case...Husband-wife (team) from China, come here, set up a company, open a childcare (centre). Because they think (there is) big money to make...
"But, today, it's different. And it will get tougher in the future."
In January, the Government announced three new anchor operators - bringing the number here to five.
Anchor operators will get government help, such as rental subsidies, in return for keeping fees low. Their monthly fees for a full-day childcare programme cannot exceed $720.
But this means that other operators "invariably are compelled to keep the fees low" and, at the same time, ensure that they deliver "quality service".
"When you keep the fees low, but your rent is not controlled or contained, and the salaries are not (either), then the challenge is how to keep the business going," said Dr Chandroo. "It's a challenge in trying to strike a balance between salary, rental and keeping the fees affordable."
Another challenge is finding good-quality teachers.
"This is one sector where, in addition to being a professional, one needs to have the love and passion. You're dealing with humans, babies. You're responsible for nurturing the next generation," explained Dr Chandroo.
"You need that special quality...to look after them. It is so difficult for us to have that 'X' factor in every (one) of our candidates."
To make it worse, the attrition rate is high.
"Many come to the industry, and many leave the industry...And because they are also young, not mothers, they have not undergone their own motherhood (process). They don't really associate a child as their (own), they get overwhelmed and frightened."
Down the road, Dr Chandroo believes things will get better. The status of pre-school teachers is being raised, as the Government has "raised the bar" to ensure that teachers are qualified.
He noted that jobs should also be "redesigned" so the teachers' focus will be on teaching, instead of cleaning up after children, for example.
The Association of Early Childhood and Training Services has introduced a Best Employer Award this year.
Dr Chandroo said: "When you showcase these best employers, we're also hoping their practices can be shared with others, others can emulate and look at their models and see how they can bring it to their own organisations.
"It is very important for the retention of staff, especially in the current environment."