While staffing has long been a challenge in the childcare industry, the pandemic has left many childcare centers more financially strapped than ever before, making it particularly difficult to attract talent and continue serving families. Staffing across the industry remains 12.4% below pre-pandemic levels, according to a recent report by Wells Fargo, and childcare centers are struggling to court and retain workers who can often find more lucrative opportunities amid a hot labor market.
Yet another hurdle many childcare centers face is how to market their jobs beyond just word of mouth and informal networks. With the launch of a new marketplace for childcare jobs, the startup Winnie is trying to bridge that gap, by connecting potential hires with open positions at childcare centers.
“They’re really facing an unprecedented staffing crisis, which has led lots of daycares and preschools we work with to close classrooms and have capacity to take fewer kids because there are really strict ratio requirements in childcare,” says Sara Mauskopf, cofounder and CEO of Winnie. “We looked at: ‘Is this an area we are well positioned to help with?’ And it made a lot of sense because we have this really large audience of both parents and childcare providers—really the perfect audience to advertise these positions to.”
For Winnie—which already boasts a directory of more than 250,000 licensed daycares and preschools and has helped millions of parents source childcare—it’s also an opportunity to improve the quality of childcare jobs, by encouraging daycare centers to adopt higher wages and benefits. One way to secure those higher wages is by ensuring childcare centers can fill empty spots immediately. “We are helping these childcare businesses run more profitably, so they have funds to pay their teachers,” Mauskopf says. “A huge way that they can pay better without necessarily raising the prices on parents is just running a more efficient program. We don’t want them to leave spaces unfilled for months when people age out of their program, because that eats into their profit margins.”
In an industry with slim margins and limited federal funding, it’s no small feat to increase pay, especially when average hourly wages hover around $13. Still, Mauskopf hopes a job board dedicated to childcare positions will help foster healthy competition and increase retention by providing more visibility into wages across different employers. Mauskopf also points out that many childcare employers already offer attractive benefits for their workers who are also seeking childcare, from subsidizing tuition to offering a guaranteed spot in their center. “If there’s not a great way to see that maybe the childcare center down the street is offering a better position, you might leave the field entirely,” she says. “We would much rather people stay in the field and just work for an employer who can provide them higher wages and better benefits.”
For now, the new marketplace will only be open to a select group of childcare centers that have opted into Winnie Pro, a subscription service for providers who want help scaling their business. “These are already businesses that are focused on growth and running more efficiently,” Mauskopf says. “We want to make sure we also help providers highlight benefits and make these positions compelling and interesting—and also help them understand the other positions in their area, so they can be competitive with other employers.” But eventually, she hopes to expand access to other childcare providers on Winnie’s platform.
“Ultimately we’re in this business to help more families access childcare,” she says. “There is a massive shortage of childcare right now that is pretty directly related to staffing. We really want this to be a fundamental human right in this country, that you can have access to quality, early care and education. And it’s far from that right now.”