Planning a career path in early childhood education

There are reliable sources of information about the early childhood education profession.

Many of us who work in the early care and education profession have little or no information about the status of early childhood education today. When planning a career in any profession, it is useful to know about career opportunities and the future outlook for the profession in general. We need to know about average salaries, job prospects or educational requirements, and these topics are not typically discussed in the media or among members of our own profession. Fortunately, Michigan State University Extension suggests the following reliable sources of information about the early childhood education profession.

One useful document on careers is available from the U.S. Department of Labor. The Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes the Occupational Outlook Handbook on hundreds of occupations in the U.S. The online handbook is searchable, which means you can quickly find information on the occupation of interest. Analysts from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics gather and summarize the data so you know the information is up-to-date and reliable.

What is the outlook for early care and education teachers? Using the most recent Occupational Outlook Handbook (December 2015), we find there were approximately 441,000 preschool teaching positions in 2014, and this number is expected to increase by about 30,000 between 2014 and 2024. Preschool teachers earned an average of $28,570 per year, or $13.74 per hour, in 2015. The typical entry-level preschool teacher has an associate’s degree, but education requirements vary by state.

What about early childhood education administrators? The Occupational Outlook Handbook reports there were approximately 64,000 administrative positions in the U.S. in early care and education. As with preschool teaching, the expectation was that the number of positions would increase at the rate of about 7 percent in the next 10 years, which means approximately 4,200 administrative positions should be added. The typical educational requirement for an administrator is a bachelor’s degree, but the average salary in 2015 was $45,670.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has determined that a rate of growth of 7 percent is average for a U.S. business. It can give us a little confidence to know that the early childhood education business is a growth industry. However, we must remember that these statistics are a nationwide average. Rate of pay, number of positions available and educational requirements can be different for your area based on the health of the local economy. One encouraging bit of news is early childhood education businesses did not appear to be significantly affected by the Great Recession of 2009.

Another way to examine the early care and education profession is by looking at our career ladder. According to Business Dictionary, a career ladder is a structured sequence of job positions through which a person progresses in an organization. In our profession, we have what looks more like a career lattice than a ladder because it is the combination of education and experience we value as opposed to one or the other.

An early childhood education career lattice is often linked to a Quality Improvement Rating System. Many states have developed their own rating systems and define which combination of formal and informal training defines the positions on the lattice. The general idea is that as a person gains more experience and achieves more education, they move up the lattice in terms of compensation and responsibility. Looking at a career lattice can be a very useful exercise for an early childhood professional because it gives us an opportunity to see the depth and breadth of our choices within the profession.

A third way to gather information about a career pathway in early education and care is to talk with a career preparation specialist at a university or community college. These councilors are trained professionals who help us examine our own skills, talents and dispositions and investigate careers that match our individual attributes. Public community colleges provide these services for no cost by appointment. Students enrolled in universities are eligible for career preparation counseling from their institution.

Whether you have already embarked on a career in early education and care, or are just beginning to think about such a career, planning is one of the most important aspects. Gathering reliable information and weighing your options will save a lot time and maybe even some heart-ache as you learn more about the realities of the profession.

For more information, see “The Key to Choosing the Right Career” by Harvard Business Review.

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