Monday, January 24, 2022

Afterschool Worker Shortage: The Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic


By Sam Piha

The issues of staff shortages, including the recruiting and retention of staff, are not new to veteran afterschool program leaders. However, these issues have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. These and more recent COVID-related influences are summarized below. (We are currently involved in the outbreak of the Omicron variant. This blog was written as the spread of this variant increases daily.)

This is another installment in a series of LIAS Blogs to address the afterschool worker shortage. This blog is an excerpt from a larger, briefing paper entitled, Understanding the Shortage of Workers in Afterschool Programs developed by Temescal Associates. The full paper can be downloaded and read here.

Low Wages
According to Cheryn Hong, ”COVID-19 has exacerbated the long-standing issue of low wages of afterschool staff, advocates said. Most afterschool care programs have a starting salary of $9-$12 an hour. Coupled with rising concerns about the virus and now the Delta variant, many of these new challenges are changing the fundamental nature of afterschool programs.

As Alana Semuels wrote in Time, ‘…what’s really happening is more accurately described as a living-wage shortage, a hazard pay shortage, a childcare shortage, a paid sick leave shortage, and a health care shortage. Naomi Ishisaka, Seattle Times

Lack Of Mobility
People have to look into other industries not only due to money but also due to the lack of social mobility within the sector. It’s very hard for people to grow and move on into other positions,” said Lissette Castillo, the Director of Community Schools in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “For example, educators can move from paraprofessional to educators to administrators, there is a lack of support for afterschool staff to have access to programming like that.” - Cheryn Hong

Lower Demand
For several reasons, young people previously enrolled in afterschool programs, have not returned. These lower attendance numbers have caused problems for schools and afterschool programs. 

 In Palm Beach County, Florida, school district officials anticipate that only one-third of the 20,000 students typically enrolled in afterschool programs will attend this year.- Jodi Wagner

Family Obligations
Workers also left their employment due to family obligations: taking care of sick relatives and family illness or having to look after siblings due to lack of childcare for working parents. 

Job Insecurity
Nearly 9 in 10 programs have long-term funding concerns because of school closures caused by COVID-19—and 6 in 10 are concerned that they may have to permanently shut their doors, a survey commissioned by the Afterschool Alliance.” - Corey Mitchell 

During the height of the pandemic, many schools moved to distance learning and afterschool programs closed, amended their mission, or lost many of their program participants. 

As the pandemic has continued, afterschool programs across the country are facing staffing shortages, forcing them to reduce the number of children they serve or close down completely. - Cheryn Hong

Health Concerns
 Before working during the pandemic, these jobs barely paid a living wage, let alone access to sick leave. Once COVID-19 hit, workers became fearful about showing up for work. - Jodi Grant, ED, Afterschool Alliance

Many workers have left employment due to concerns about contracting COVID from their young people or unvaccinated colleagues, and hesitancy to comply with vaccine mandates.

“’Some Omaha afterschool centers are operating with non-vaccinated staff but are still short staffed as workers, fearful of getting sick, leave their job,’ said Chief Operating Officer of Kids Can Community Center, Josh Gillman.” - Cheryn Hong

The Changing Nature of Afterschool Programs
Many afterschool programs changed their work in response to community needs during the heights of the pandemic. “They are no longer simply “after” school, out-of-school time programs have pivoted to take on a number of new roles, including: hybrid and distance learning facilitators, child care providers, social workers, and community distributors of essentials like meals and diapers.” - Education Writers Association

Source: Ed Week
Federally and state-funded programs, and those that rely on philanthropic funding, are more likely to have pivoted to offer virtual services, such as academic support or online meetups, or are doing what they can to deliver meals and other aid to families struggling with food insecurity and unemployment. - Corey Mitchell

Burn Out, Especially Programs That Rely on Teachers
Due to pressures related to the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers and afterschool staff are reporting high levels of burn out. According to Nikki Yamashiro, Vice President of Research at the Afterschool Alliance, “There’s the challenge for programs that rely on teachers, with teachers feeling burnout during the pandemic, as well as programs that have increased hours or needed staff to work overtime to cover shifts- which then leads to burnout of current staff.

Loss of College-Enrolled Afterschool Staff 
College-enrolled afterschool staff may have left the area since most college courses pivoted to distance learning, while contact with others may have been lost during shelter-in-place and remote work transitions.

Temescal Associates and The How Kids Learn Foundation will be conducting a webinar focusing on the nature of the current worker shortage, the challenges to afterschool programs and how best to respond to this as a field on Thursday, January 27, 2022 from 10:00am - 12:00pm (PST). To learn more and register, click here.

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