Shortages of workers continue to plague early childhood education and care (ECEC) systems across the United States. The early childhood sector was hit hard by COVID-19, with ECEC systems losing more than 100,000 workers and in excess of 12,000 programs closing. For immigrant-origin families with Dual Language Learner (DLL) children, these shortages compound their difficulties engaging with a sector that already struggles to effectively serve those who speak languages other than English. Addressing the child-care system’s workforce crisis and persisting inequities within it requires a multipronged approach that meets families’ diverse needs.

Improving the accessibility of ECEC jobs that pay a family-sustaining wage for workers who speak a language other than English is one promising solution, particularly since immigrant workers have historically comprised a large share of the early childhood workforce. Yet administrative and bureaucratic barriers to the recruitment, hiring, and advancement of multilingual workers, including immigrants, continue to hinder efforts to advance this potential win-win strategy for both the early childhood sector and its existing and prospective workers. The development and expansion of apprenticeship programs specifically designed for ECEC careers could help establish reliable pathways for immigrant workers to help fill the labor shortages faced by early childhood systems—a point worth considering this week, which is National Apprenticeship Week.

A growing share of families with young children (ages 0 to 5) in the United States have DLL children. One of every three young children has at least one parent at home who speaks a language other than English—the definition of a DLL. Yet early childhood programs often struggle to reach and include such families in their services due to factors including a lack of affordability and availability, schedules that do not accommodate nontraditional work hours, and absence of engagement in languages other than English (part of larger challenges related to language access in major ECEC programs).

Immigrants comprise approximately 20 percent of the ECEC workforce but are not evenly distributed across early childhood programs. They are over-represented in lower-skilled and lower-paying jobs in the profession, and many are also informally employed in the sector. Immigrant families, particularly those who are low-income, often rely on Family, Friend, and Neighbor (FFN) care which, while outside of more formal ECEC systems, is often more likely to be culturally and linguistically responsive. Yet the essential support provided by FFN caregivers remains largely unrecognized within the ECEC field.

Apprenticeship programs represent a promising solution to help bring more multilingual workers into the early childhood field in a way that leverages their existing strengths and skillsets while providing immediate compensation. Apprenticeship programs, which date to the 1930s, are managed by the U.S. Department of Labor or through federally recognized state apprenticeship agencies. Over the past year, Registered Apprenticeship programs served an estimated 593,000 people in industries ranging from construction to health care and technology. Unlike other workforce training programs, apprenticeships are generally aligned with specific jobs or with an employer and are paid, allowing participants to “earn and learn” as they gain a nationally recognized certificate and skills for a specific job.

Read the full article about early childhood education apprenticeships by Jacob Hofstetter, Alexis Fintland, and Maki Park at Migration Policy Institute.