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Accessing career pathways to education and training for early care and education (ECE) professionals

While there is increasing consensus regarding the competencies needed for ECE professionals, there continues to be a large disparity between policies set for minimum professional qualifications, wages earned, and access to higher educational attainments across early learning settings. Credential and wage disparities within the sector have contributed to a fractured workforce and as a result, have created a perception that educating children below the age of five outside of a school-based setting requires less expertise. With the mounting evidence presented by scientific research highlighting the importance of high quality educational experiences for children birth through five, these perceptions are rapidly changing, and with this change, the landscape of state and national credential requirements are evolving. The task will be to provide high quality training and educational opportunities, social and workforce supports, and compensation improvements to upskill and retain highly qualified incumbent ECE professionals and entice new skilled educators into the field. This report explores how career pathways can offer an effective approach to address some of these challenges and support the current and evolving landscape of the ECE sector and its most disadvantaged professionals. Comprehensive and flexible education and training programs can make it easier for individuals to acquire industry-recognized credentials and higher education degrees to advance on a career trajectory. Effective career pathways approaches can also better serve workers that may experience significant barriers to education and employment advancement (i.e., low-skilled adults, and adults with limited English proficiency). Expanding the implementation of career pathways in the ECE sector is examined as a strategy for elevating the workforce and assisting ECE professionals that have barriers to accessing credentials, higher education, and career advancement opportunities. The report will present major obstacles ECE professionals encounter as they move into, and through, career pathways; highlight career pathways approaches and strategies at the federal, state, and program level to provide examples of promising practices in serving the ECE workforce; and recommendations for next steps and considerations for career pathways implementation in the ECE sector. (author abstract)
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