During this time, the afterschool field has made great strides in research, practice and policies that have influenced funding support of quality afterschool programs. The research clearly shows that skilled and knowledgeable program staff are the linchpin to the program quality, leading to positive youth outcomes.
Historically, we've all expected the OST workforce to provide quality services with limited job quality, enduring part-time hours, low wages and minimal benefits. At NAA, we're very concerned that we as a field—since we've continually been on the verge of a staffing crisis—are not prepared with the number of professionals necessary to support additional programs and supports.
No matter how passionate they are about kids, there are not enough people interested in working long-term within these positions, which take high skill, high emotional commitment and offer limited job quality. Afterschool professionals are continually asked to do more and give more, without getting much in return.
As we work on policies and funding to increase access to programs for kids, we must also work on policies and budgets that support job quality for the professionals. The professionals are essential to developing the relationships and positive youth outcomes for which quality OST programs are known.
Many of the policy groups we participate in only focus on the workforce—if at all—when it's related to professional development. More recently at NAA, we've been looking for opportunities to support the workforce beyond professional development.
We believe the vital workforce issues that need to be amplified are equity and job quality—cross-cutting issues that impact worker recruitment and retention, provider well-being (at both the direct service and leadership levels), and professional development. They ultimately impact overall program quality, and the experiences and relationships which benefit young people.
The bottom line: If we can't attract people to the profession and keep them, we will not be able to provide the services that kids, families and communities need, much less at the most impactful levels of quality.
Much of the afterschool workforce are women and women of color who live in the communities that programs are serving. Suppose we don't increase job quality while supporting communities and people to better health and quality of life. In that case, we are perpetuating many of the inequitable systems that cause poverty, health issues and other disparities, which is absolutely unacceptable.
Below, NAA poses five essential questions, offers three big recommendations and resources for field leaders, stakeholders and funders.
FIVE ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS
- As we fight for equity and access for young people, how do we ensure that staff has the job quality necessary for the essential professionals who do this work?
- What measures are needed to secure the staff the system needs now and for the future, and how can actions already underway be more effective?
- How can we ensure the system more effectively trains, educates, and invests in the new and current workforce?
- What more can be done to ensure all staff—starting from the lowest paid—see a valid and attractive career in OST, with identifiable paths and multiple entry points and choices?
- How can we make space for conversations about these critical issues? What actions can we all take now while longer-term plans are in the works?
- Increase political will and financing for increased workforce job quality.
- Generate stronger evidence to strengthen the OST workforce.
- Create systems to recruit, retain and advance the profession's members—from direct service to leadership.
- Core Knowledge and Competencies for Afterschool and Youth Development Professionals and CKCs Self-Assessment Tools
- National AfterSchool Association Professional Credentialing System
- Afterschool Workforce Focus: A Powerful Plan for Action
- Taming Turnover: Is Manager Mindset Thwarting Your Success?
- The Systemic Disregard for Frontline Staff
- Program Staff are Our Most Valuable Asset—Act Accordingly
- Nearly Half of Childcare Teachers Leave Every Year, Why Aren't We Talking About This?
Written by Heidi Ham, Vice President of Programs and Strategy for NAA.
Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages.