Last month, KYOSA staff, along with other out-of-school time (OST) leaders, funders, and stakeholders from across the country, met together at the 2022 National Afterschool Association (NAA) Convention, March 20-23 in Las Vegas, for a three-part series of invite-only sessions focused on creating a thriving OST workforce. During these sessions, KYOSA helped NAA draft a proclamation for the field and a strategic plan focused on addressing some of the historic issues OST programs have always grappled with, but were exacerbated by the pandemic, around recruiting and retaining staff.
Over the past several months, OST leaders across the county have been sounding the alarm that, like many other sectors, from healthcare to education to hospitality, OST programs have not been spared from the current workforce crisis, which has left providers across the county struggling to fill open positions and retain existing staff at a time when demand is soaring.
In the latest wave of the Afterschool in the Time of COVID-19 survey, conducted by Edge Research between Nov. 1 and Dec. 13, 2021, staffing issues were among the most common challenges reported by providers. In Kentucky, nearly 2 in 3 providers (64 percent) who responded to the survey reported that they were “extremely” or “very concerned” about finding staff to hire or staffing shortages. Additionally, 61 percent of respondents in Kentucky reported that it has been “difficult” for their program to hire and/or retain staff, with more than one-third (36 percent) reporting that this has been “very difficult.”
Responding to this issue, many Kentucky providers have taken steps to attract or retain staff, with increasing staff salaries being the most common step taken (39 percent). In addition to increasing salaries, other incentives providers have offered to attract or retain staff include providing free child care (30 percent) and additional professional development opportunities (24 percent).
But, these types of incentives are likely to be short-lived without sustained public investments in OST at every level (federal, state, and local). According to a survey of Kentucky’s OST workforce conducted by KYOSA between Jun. 1 and Nov. 18, 2021, nearly half of all respondents (44 percent) believe that increased funding for OST over the next three years is crucial to ensuring competitive wages and professional development opportunities for staff.
When Kentucky providers can’t recruit or retain staff, they must operate at reduced capacity. This, in turn, results in long waitlists or students missing out altogether. “In a time of extreme need, fewer students are being served due to workforce crisis in OST programs,” says Stacie Strotman, Executive Director of Covington Partners, a nonprofit organization in northern Kentucky that coordinates OST programming, including several federally-funded 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLCs), within the Covington Independent School District. “Until we recognize this profession as a critical missing piece to workforce solutions, students will continue to suffer and needs across the cradle to career continuum will go unmet.”
Research continues to demonstrate that participation in high-quality afterschool and summer learning opportunities helps kids boost academic achievement and learn important workforce skills, such as perseverance and teamwork. In addition, with a school calendar incongruent to traditional American work schedules, OST programs are a lifeline to working parents or caregivers, especially over the summer. But, as the 2021-2022 school year wraps up, there is a real possibility that many providers across Kentucky won’t be able to hire enough staff to be able to operate their programs at full capacity this summer, which will leave working parents without child care and students without opportunities to keep them engaged and learning when the school doors close in May.
KYOSA is committed to working with NAA and other key state and national partners in order to develop a strong action plan that will start Kentucky on the path of developing and sustaining a thriving OST workforce for years to come. To stay informed on this topic and receive updates on initiatives KYOSA plans to undertake to address Kentucky’s current OST workforce crisis, be sure to regularly visit our website and follow us on social media.