By Kirsty McManus, National Director, Institute of Directors (IoD) Northern Ireland
A crisis brewing in childcare is placing further pressure on Northern Ireland’s already chronic skills shortage.
The strain on the finances of childcare providers, exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, coupled with the crippling cost to some families of accessing day care, is threatening to further widen the skills gap.
For businesses, there are significant concerns around attracting and retaining the necessary talent required to enable them to fully prosper.
Statistics contained in the recently published Employers for Childcare annual survey laid bare the situation.
It calculated the average cost of a full-time childcare place in Northern Ireland to be £170 a week, placing a hardship on many working families.
Meanwhile, 71 per cent of childcare providers said that they were struggling to break even or making a loss.
For a third of the providers that responded, their financial position was described as “struggling” or “distressed” with a focus on merely surviving over the next year. That is a huge portion of the sector effectively staring closure in the face.
Whether unable to find a childcare space due to lack of availability or simply not able to afford the costs, the barriers for those trying to enter or remain in the world of work are clearly evidenced.
The resultant skills gap is experienced at every level in businesses and is just as important when it comes to fostering increased diversity in senior roles and at board level.
Another recent survey conducted by the Institute of Directors with members across the UK found that 57 per cent believed the cost and availability of childcare was restricting the capacity of women to take on senior business positions.
A clear majority, 72 per cent, were also in favour of the provision of more generous government support of childcare costs.
With a childcare strategy still to be produced by the Northern Ireland Executive, we need our politicians to look more seriously at how they remove childcare-related barriers that are causing income traps across different income groups, employment types and family sizes.
It’s also time for a proper debate around nursery top-up fees and the employment and tax status of nannies or child carers.
We want to provide a stable environment where children can be cared for and solutions that work for employers and employees alike.
It’s not just for their benefit, but for the wider economy and society at large.