Submitted by: Pamela Haines, Public Policy Director, First Up @FirstUpEarlyEd

First Up (formerly DVAEYC) is a proud partner in a new, first-in-the-country, registered apprenticeship program for childcare workers. With the District 1199C Training and Upgrading Fund as lead, this program enables incumbent workers to receive college credit for on-the-job training at their place of employment, and get paid time off to take classes leading to an Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education (ECE) from Community College of Philadelphia. Everyone involved—the apprentices, their employers, and workplace coaches, First Up’s mentors for the coaches, and faculty at CCP—is thrilled to be part of this exciting new initiative.

Childcare is an often neglected sector of the economy, yet it is critical for our overall economic health on several levels. Workers require dependable childcare to be their most productive at work; quality early care and education lays the foundation for the workforce of tomorrow; and children who experience high-quality early care and education are well prepared for success in school and life, saving social costs in welfare and criminal justice systems, and contributing to the tax base of the future.

Not only is childcare among the 87 high priority occupations in Philadelphia, but it is also among the top third in annual job openings, and the top 40% in anticipated future growth. With over 98% of childcare programs in the state categorized as small businesses, it is also a significant component of Philadelphia’s small business sector. As such, it has one of the highest multipliers of any industry—$2.06 in additional dollars circulating in the local economy for every dollar of spending. This is because so much of the spending by early learning programs and staff stays local and, ironically, because generally low wages go largely into spending rather than saving.

As a historically low-wage industry, however, it struggles to offer high-quality services to parents at a rate they can afford. Yet quality is critical, with 90% of a child’s brain development happening before the age of five. The ECE apprenticeship program is a model for helping teachers gain the skills to provide quality care and education while gaining the credentials that position them to receive higher wages.

Starting with 25 employers and 36 apprentices in Philadelphia, the program has celebrated its first five graduations, has expanded into Delaware and Chester Counties, and is starting a second cohort in the city.  Cheryl Feldman from the Training and Upgrading Fund speaks of how empowered the apprentices are becoming, and how committed they are to their education, employers, children, and families. A childcare center director comments on the many benefits: “Everybody wants to be a part of it. I’ve gained new skills and used what I know differently. It helps my children and assistant teachers. I get so much encouragement that I want to burst it out to everybody.”

More and more people are talking about the potential of apprenticeship programs outside of the traditional trades. We at First Up are proud to be part of this effort, and glad to serve as a bridge between the early childhood field and the business community. When it comes to smart public and private investments to strengthen the workforce of today and tomorrow, business has an important role to play in propelling high-quality childcare to the top of the agenda.

More information on apprenticeship programs is available at: www.1199ctraining.org/apprenticeship.