Nebraska’s early childhood workforce is the center of quality for all early childhood settings. The small businesses owned and operated by home-based providers form the infrastructure that make it possible for other businesses to thrive in their communities. Nebraska’s families and economy cannot thrive without a strong, diverse, and skilled early childhood workforce. The Nebraska Early Childhood Workforce Commission released a report in 2020 with four goals to elevate the early childhood workforce to a priority profession. Those goals focus on a highly qualified early childhood workforce; sustainable funding for early care and education; an informed, engaged, and committed public; and, finally, an infrastructure for effective collaboration, coordination, and communication across the state. As part of all these goals, there is an emphasis on authentic engagement of early childhood professionals—working WITH early childhood professionals to co-design solutions to difficult problems, not presenting them with solutions or imposing policies on them.
With these goals and priorities in place, project 4a has worked to promote and innovate activities that will lead to sustainable change. Evaluating and documenting pathways to degrees and credentials has been an important part of the project. You can’t have a qualified early childhood workforce without affordable, accessible, and equitable pathways into the field. These pathways must also include systems that recognize the experiences and skills of those in the field who do not have formal degrees (and do not want degrees). Nebraska has 20 institutions of higher education offering 41 different degrees or diplomas related to early childhood, yet individuals new to the field and experienced professionals have trouble navigating this system. The various degrees are now documented and a new privately funded grant will focus on building a competency-based framework in collaboration with local communities. Personnel from project 4a helped write and conceptualize the new grant project.
Funding from PDG for 4a has also been used to map the funding within the early childhood system and to ask questions concerning the system: How much money is in the system? oHw does it flow through the system? and, most importantly, What must early childhood professionals do to access those funds? These questions are being addressed within 4a with the goal of fully funding the early childhood care and education system.
As part of centering the workforce and authentically engaging them, 4a has also partially funded the Nebraska Early Childhood Workforce Leadership Cadre. Twenty-six Cadre members were chosen from a pool of more than 250 applicants. These early childhood educators are highly skilled professionals and innovative leaders in their field. The Institute’s role as conveners is to provide the supports necessary to elevate the capacity of these leaders to positively impact young children and families in the communities where they live and work.
Members of the Nebraska Early Childhood Workforce Leadership Cadre play a central role in the design of meeting agendas and Cadre activities. At the end of each quarterly in-person meeting, members complete an evaluation to provide feedback on meeting content and processes. The facilitators share the results of the evaluation with Cadre members, who use that data to co-create the agenda for upcoming meetings. The current needs of the early childhood workforce, which include such topics as limited staffing and funding, also inform both meeting content and processes. The primary role of the conveners is to provide the supports, resources, and coordination necessary to create the conditions for members to lead the work of the Cadre. As participants move from the learning phase into the design, prototyping, and implementation of impact projects, Institute staff will continue to play a supportive role.