Struggle for nurseries in Wales to recruit key staff - charity warns

Private and voluntary nurseries in Wales find it very difficult to recruit staff qualified to Level 3 and these are the ones most likely to leave, says National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA) Cymru. Workforce Survey Wales cover

The rollout of the ambitious Childcare Offer for Wales, which offers three and four-year-olds of working parents 30 hours of funded childcare and early education for 48 weeks of the year, has increased demand for nursery places.

But this demand has put pressure on the sector with two thirds of respondent nurseries saying they had difficulties recruiting Level 3 qualified practitioners. This is made worse by the fact that Level 3 staff made up 64% of all leavers in the past year.

Purnima Tanuku OBE, Chief Executive of NDNA, said: “Research shows that a skilled and knowledgeable early years workforce provides a strong foundation for a child’s learning and development. It’s the dedication of staff in nurseries that provide the high-quality provision which gives children the best outcomes.

“Employers are restricted by government funding for Foundation Phase and Childcare Offer, so many cannot reward their qualified and experienced staff in the way they would want to.
While there is evidence that the 100% business rates relief is supporting nurseries to be more sustainable, more needs to be done.

“As minimum wages increase each year, alongside other costs, nurseries need to have the reassurance that funding rates match these rising costs. As other costs rise, it is not surprising to see that nurseries are struggling to increase their current training budgets to support upskilling the workforce.

“We are pleased that the Welsh Government is currently undertaking a pilot in Flintshire to align the Childcare Offer and Foundation Phase rates but this needs to be addressed across Wales to support the sector nationally.”

The turnover of staff in early years at 19.4% is higher than the average across all industries, but lower than in the early years workforces in England (24%) and Scotland (29%). A high turnover of staff can negatively impact on a child’s development and can be costly for the employer.

Based on data from the Welsh Government suggesting there are 17,000 people working in childcare across the country the survey suggests there are 935 vacancies in the sector. 

Read the full report here.

NDNA Cymru recommends that:

  • The Welsh Government monitor and review annually the rising costs of delivering the Childcare Offer for Wales
  • The Flintshire pilot of aligning the Foundation Phase hourly rate with the Childcare Offer rate will support the workforce to deliver high quality early years education. Following the pilot, the Foundation Phase Hourly rate should be aligned nationally which will support the sustainability of the non-maintained sector and ensure they are able to offer parental choice and further invest in upskilling their workforce   
  • The Welsh Government continues to invest in the workforce to support retention of Level 3 qualified staff, career progression and professionalising the workforce 
  • The Welsh Government continues its support to active and inclusive recruitment programmes within the childcare, early years and play sector 

The survey covered 118 nurseries across Wales employing over 1,350 staff to look after more than 8,000 children. It revealed that:

Recruitment, qualifications of staff and training:

  • The greatest challenge facing early years settings is recruitment of qualified and experienced staff. Two-thirds (66.1%) of respondents said they had issues recruiting Level 3 Qualified staff
  • The second most problematic area is Level 2 qualified staff with 26.5% reporting difficulties in recruiting here.
  • At other levels of qualification, employers report fewer issues 
  • Over half of respondents stated that they had not had to recruit at Level 4, Level 5, Graduate or Nursery Manager level in the past 12 months.
  • Over 83% of the workforce in non-maintained settings have Level 3 qualifications or higher in line with the National Minimum Standards for Regulated Childcare (NMS) and staff with Level 3 qualifications make up 59% of the workforce
  • Men still make up less than 5% of the early years workforce
  • Level 3 staff make up 58.9% of the overall workforce but represented 64% of the total number of leavers
  • Turnover of staff is an issue in Wales with a rate of 19.4% costing the entire childcare sector an estimated £59.6m. 

Staffing costs

  • Increases in minimum wages and pension requirements are pushing up employers’ costs well above the rate of inflation 
  • Due to other costs rising, early years settings are planning to keep staff training costs at similar levels to last year. If changes are planned they are more likely to reduce than increase training budgets
  • Business rates relief is helping the sector remain sustainable, keep costs lower or invest in improving quality


  • Brexit uncertainty is causing some employers to lose staff but the numbers are low at present.

Some employer comments from the survey:

“Availability of good quality staff to meet ratios and develop all areas of nursery remains a huge problem.” - Nursery provider

“[A real] issue is the difficulty experienced in finding experienced, qualified staff.” – Nursery employer