It’s no secret that the biggest challenge facing businesses today is the labor shortage. The reasons behind this shortage are many. However, in recent reports, meetings with workforce development partners and discussions with our own staff, one issue continually rises to the top.
That’s access to childcare.
Over the last 17 months, working parents have had to find the balance of working from home, helping with school and finding facilities or relatives that can take on these roles in the fall. That’s a lot to juggle. And it’s one of the primary causes for our nation hitting its lowest labor force participation rate for women in more than 30 years.
After hearing this theme surface multiple times in a matter of weeks, we turned to the experts at the Child Care Network to learn more about childcare challenges and opportunities in Genesee County. What we found was, as of May, there were 299 private, licensed childcare providers in Genesee County. Fortunately, only one private facility closed in Genesee County because of the pandemic — which is impressive considering other counties in our region have seen nearly 50 percent of their providers disappear.
That’s where the good news ends.
The combined capacity of these facilities is 15,378 children, whereas there are about 47,000 children ages 0-9 in Genesee County. While not all these kids need day care, this is still a tremendous gap. Additionally, there aren’t enough childcare workers to support the demand, and these businesses can’t pay a high enough wage to be competitive with other industries. If they did pay their workers more, then the costs would go up and it wouldn’t be worthwhile for people to work if they were paying all their wages back out in childcare costs.
Now that we better understand the severity and complexity of this issue, we’re working with partners to identify and create solutions that address it. For example, we’re looking to deploy small business support programs, resources and partners to improve the capacity of existing childcare facilities and spur entrepreneurship to develop more. We’ll be encouraging employers to consider covering childcare expenses, in whole or in part, or providing on-site care as a benefit.
We’ll be connecting our workforce development partners with the Child Care Network partners and the public schools’ childcare providers to illuminate the challenges and identify ways that to work together to influence change. And we’ll continue to offer high-quality afterschool programming through YouthQuest, a program of our Flint & Genesee Education & Talent division.
This childcare issue is just one example of the ways in which the Flint & Genesee Group leverages its four divisions and our many community connections to solve barriers to economic vitality. It speaks to the value of convening partners to identify trends in barriers and opportunities for our community. And it gives you a glimpse at my favorite part of my job —finding challenges and influencing systemic improvement.
Kristina Johnston is COO of the Flint & Genesee Group.