Exploring the ECEC National Workforce Census results

Friday, September 16, 2022

The latest National Workforce Census gives us a wealth of information to gain a well-rounded understanding of the early childhood education sector.

At a moment when early childhood education and care faces distinct challenges and ongoing staff crises, the insights provided by the latest National Workforce Census help us to draw a detailed picture of the sector – now and over time.

early childhood education

The 2021 Census report

The ECEC National Workforce Census is usually conducted every three years to gain an overview of the sector over time. After delays prompted by the onset of COVID-19 and the introduction of the child care subsidy system (CCS), the results of the 2021 Census are finally in.

These results will be used to assist the Australian Government to design, develop and carry out policy changes to reflect the demands of this evolving sector.

This is the fourth census the government has conducted. It collected information from various early childhood education services on things like service usage, staff and children with special needs. Happily, more people took part in this census than in previous years, meaning that we’re getting a more detailed picture of the sector than ever before.

Understanding the sector now and into the future

A census is designed to record and analyse data from a given population. This data not only paints a useful picture of the sector in its current state, but also helps us to understand how it has changed and is predicted to evolve over time.

Results assist policy makers, analysts and sector leads to:

  • Identify current trends
  • Make recommendations
  • Establish growth predictions
  • Isolate areas where change is needed
  • Design, develop and implement policy

This census has some interesting results. Building on the 2010, 2013 and 2016 reports, the findings give us a clear understanding of how ECEC has changed over time, as well as showing us how the sector has responded to new challenges brought on by the pandemic.

Key trends in early childhood education

1. A bigger workforce

With the sector facing ongoing staff shortages, it’s reassuring to hear that the workforce has grown.

The report reveals that as of 2021, the total number of educators working across the five key ECEC settings – long day care (LDC), family day care (FDC), outside school hours care (OSHC), in home care and vacation care – was 216,619. This indicates steady growth since the previous census was conducted in 2016, and a substantial increase compared to the reports from previous years.


  • ECEC workforce continues to grow
  • 216, 619 current workers
  • 11% rise since 2016
  • 72% rise since 2013

2. Rapid growth in Long Day Care

Long day care (LDC) – which some of us know as ‘centre based care’ – is the hotspot for current growth. Since the last census LDC has seen an influx of workers, who now account for an enormous 68% of all educators in ECEC.


  • Number of workers in LDC up 34% since 2016
  • 92% rise since 2013
  • The number of new service centres has not grown at a similar pace – with only a 20% increase since 2016.

The last point is significant because it indicates a disparity between how quickly the LDC workforce is growing in comparison to how many new centres are opening.

Reasons for the discrepancy could include increased regulations, a shift toward larger centres and heavy casualisation of the workforce.

3. Qualifications: Diplomas on the rise

In terms of the mix of qualifications among workers in the sector, the report indicates some notable trends. The number of people who hold a Diploma has jumped to over 75,000 compared to just over 50,000 in 2016.

While it is positive to see more people choosing to do Diploma level qualifications, the results for Bachelor degrees in Early Childhood Teaching (ECT) and Certificate IIIs are slightly concerning. Since the last census, the number of people who hold a bachelor degree or above has not grown. More worrying is the fact that in the same period Certificate IIIs – which showed strong growth in previous years – have slumped.

The concern is that we need strong growth in all three qualifications to address staff shortages across the sector. If we do not see a rise in bachelor and Certificate III level qualifications, it may be likely that staffing will remain a critical issue in the following years.

We do know, at least, that in the LDC setting Certificate III qualifications are on the rise. Ideally we’ll see this growth mirrored in other settings over the coming years.


  • Diplomas up since 2016
  • Bachelors flat line
  • Certificate IIIs face slight decline

4. Under 30s dominate

It may come as no surprise that ECEC is still a young workforce, with people under 30 continuing to form a majority. As the workforce increases we’re seeing more and more young people joining the sector, with participation at its lowest among those in their late 40s and early 50s. After that there’s another uptick, with increased numbers of workers over the age of 55 now joining the sector.


  • 39% educators are below the age of 30
  • 36% are above the age of 40
  • These statistics have remained relatively stable across the last 3 census reports

5. Women still constitute a majority of the workforce

ECEC remains a female dominated workforce, forming a striking of 92.1% of workers sector-wide. In centre based care this statistic is even higher, where women account for almost 96% of all workers.

6. Other highlights

Other noteworthy findings include:

  • First Nations workers now account for 2.9% of the workforce, up from 1.8% in 2013.
  • 5% of educators with ECEC qualifications had over 10 years’ experience in the sector
  • 25% of educators with a Certificate III were studying for a Diploma
  • Upskilling is down slightly, with 76% of workers not currently studying for a new qualification

Steady growth for promising outcomes in the sector

The information we’ve canvassed indicates a few key points to consider. Firstly, we’re seeing steady growth in the workforce and this is certain to alleviate some of the pressure of staff shortages. In coming years it will be important to see Certificate III and Bachelor qualifications catching up to Diplomas, and part of this will be encouraging individuals to get started on a career in early childhood education or progress to further study for those who are already employed.

Registered Training Organisations like Practical Outcomes have a key role to play in ensuring we continue to provide the high quality education which underpins a strong workforce.

Join the growing early childhood education workforce

Early childhood education and care is strengthened by the thousands of passionate and committed people who make up its workforce, and the results of this recent census indicate that it’s only set to increase.

With high demand for jobs, now is the time to enhance your employment prospects in ECEC. Whether your interest lies in upskilling, progressing your career or joining a growing community of like-minded individuals, Practical Outcomes specialises in all things early childhood education.

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