The region's alarming jobs shortage is worsening.
Today we revealed the waiting list for a childcare place in Warrnambool extended beyond 300 people. It's not that we don't have enough childcare centres or capacity, there's just not enough carers to look after children of working parents.
Twenty years ago the city's childcare sector was dominated by council-run centres. In fact, there was only one privately-owned facility. With spiralling demand and growing wait lists, the council actively campaigned for private operators to enter the market. The resulting flood of centres across the city, coupled with a surge in home childcare, alleviated the problem. Such was the success of private centres, the council even questioned whether it needed to remain such a big player in the sector. Thankfully it did. But fast-forward to 2022 when the region is in the grips of a worker shortage across almost every industry and sector, the council and policy makers at state and federal levels don't have the same levers to pull in this case of emergency.
There are two new centres on the drawing board for Warrnambool, one which has planning approval and the other which doesn't, but these operations won't be the silver bullet mums and dads are crying out for. They will need to be staffed. And, not for the first time in recent months, we ask where will the workers come from?
South West TAFE, which provides early childhood course, says 44 students graduated in 2021 and a further 11 so far this year. Another 65 are enrolled. But we can't train people quickly enough to help working mums like Warrnambool doctor Eli Cowling. She remains 59th on the waiting list and could soon step away from full-time work.
"The idea of stopping work as a result of no childcare is just shocking," she said.
It is, in her words, absurd because we already have a shortage of doctors. We can't afford to lose them. Last week we highlighted the difficulty patients experienced in trying to access health services despite overworked, underpaid doctors going above and beyond to help. Our intent was not to knock these unsung heroes but highlight our failing health system, which needs generational change. Terang doctor Jacqueline Altree today highlighted the pressures, demands and incredible sacrifices GPs in country areas make. Her story and thoughts, including the industry's problems, should inspire discussions around the country about ways to make meaningful changes. Reading her piece, which mentions the lack of childcare access for GPs, you want to reach out and say 'thank you' but sadly that isn't enough.
We need urgent reforms and lasting solutions to our health system. We also need to quickly address the childcare crisis. Wannon MP Dan Tehan suggested we may have to look overseas if we can't fill the spots with local workers. He also suggested a call-out to those qualified who may have left the industry to return. They will help. But we need to go further. We need an attractive marketing campaign to promote childcare careers, and we need incentives for people to take up courses. We can't dilly dally. Rising interest rates and cost of living pressures will only force more people into the workforce, which only adds to the waiting lists.
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