Choose a Career in Early Childhood Education and Care

This page includes an overview of the types of careers in the early childhood education and care sector, what qualifications you may need to start and where your career can go from there.

Why work in early childhood education and care

Early childhood educators and teachers are highly skilled professionals who play a vital role in the intellectual and social development of children, with 90 per cent of a child’s brain development occurring in the first five years of life.

If you want to work with children, there has never been a better time to start your career in early childhood. The sector is growing with opportunities to enter and expand your career in all sorts of stimulating and professionally rewarding directions and early childhood teachers and educators with a passion for early learning and development are in demand across NSW.

Some early childhood educators and teachers will be happy to work directly with our littlest learners in a service setting throughout their career, while others may use their qualifications and experience to explore alternative career pathways .

Developing and maintaining a sustainable, highly qualified workforce is crucial to ensuring children get the best start in life. Early childhood professionals also play a crucial role in providing a child safe environment and as mandatory reporters must be aware of their roles and responsibilities to identify and respond to every child at risk of abuse or neglect.

A career in early childhood education and care

The children are the best part about my day. They're just so unpredictable, and they're just so amazing.  

We have an opportunity at this age to be able to ignite their passion for learning.  

And really, really shape how their journey is in life.   

[Rochelle] So that when they go to school, the foundation is laid and they already want to know things.   

[Gail] And to encourage them to be lifelong learners.   

No day is the same when you work with children. And I have a lifetime of memories from working with the different children. I have a library full of memories about different experiences that the children have shared with me or said to me, stories that I'll remember forever.   

It makes me feel real proud that the children are learning their language, and it's following 'em on through their life.   

It's a great feeling to know where the child was and where they've gone. It's a journey that we have with the children here.   

It's the most wonderful career, and it's just so diverse and vast that you can do almost anything in it. So I would really encourage anyone to go into early childhood education and care.

Different roles in early childhood education services

There are different roles within early childhood education services requiring different qualifications and having different levels of responsibility. These include:

  • Educators – working directly with children and holding or studying for a certificate III
  • Lead educators – along with working directly with children lead educators have responsibility for planning educational programs and providing leadership and mentoring to other educators
  • Early Childhood Teachers – early childhood teachers are degree qualified and educate children in the two years before school. ECTs are responsible for teaching the skills that give children a smooth transition to school.
  • Managers and Directors – managers and directors look after the administrative aspects of a service including ensuring that a service is complaint with the National Law and Regulations and preparing for assessment and reporting. They also work with parents to ensure the needs of all children in the service are met.

Qualifications

Qualifications give you the formal knowledge and skills to become a quality teacher, leader or educator in early childhood education and care. Other pathways include pre-apprenticeships, apprenticeships, traineeships or school-based apprenticeships in children’s services. Apprenticeships and traineeships combine work-based training with an employer and formal training from a training provider. They're a great way to be paid for work, while you learn and earn a qualification.

The National Quality Framework (NQF) sets out the minimum qualification requirements for educators working in children’s education and care services. As an early childhood educator, you must hold, or in some circumstances be actively working towards either an ACECQA approved Certificate III or Diploma level qualification.

To be recognised as an early childhood teacher, you will need to complete a tertiary degree (3 or 4 years), including an accredited teacher education program, at a recognised university or higher education institution. Visit the NSW Education Standards Authority for more information.

Outside school hours care (OSHC) is the name commonly given to services that provide education and care to school age children before and after school and during school holidays. There are currently no requirements for educators in OSHC services in NSW to have an early childhood qualification, however, having a qualification in education is an advantage for those working in these services.

Professional development and scholarships

It’s important that early childhood professionals maintain their professional learning and training. Professional development opportunities are beneficial for you and your practice which in turns contributes to the learning outcomes of the children at your service

There are a range of professional development (PD) and scholarships for early childhood teachers and educators designed to provide financial support while you study and allow you to continue to critically reflect on and develop your practice and build your professional identity.

In addition to the scholarships offered by the Department other financial support that may be available to people studying in NSW include:

JobTrainer

Free or low-fee courses to eligible applicants, including all 17-24 year-olds and anyone out of work or receiving an income support payment. Currently being rolled out across the states and territories. Visit the site.

Smart and Skilled

Fee-free scholarships for eligible applicants (aged 30 or under; in receipt of welfare payments; or victims of family violence). Visit the site

Return to Work program

Up to $5,000 to support retraining. Visit the site

Rural and Regional Enterprise Scholarships

Up to $18,000 for students in rural and regional Australia undertaking a qualification from Certificate IV to PhD level. Visit the site

If you are a degree qualified early childhood teacher you must participate in ongoing PD that relates to the standards at or above your career stage to maintain accreditation. NESA’s website outlines professional development requirements to maintain your teaching accreditation.

A career for life

Early childhood is a multi-faceted and diverse sector, with opportunities to advance and grow professionally within individual employment settings and across the sector.

For instance, you may start as an early childhood educator in long day care or kindergarten, add qualifications and experience to become a service manager, move to a policy or management position with government and end up as a university lecturer inspiring the next generation. You could also lead and manage your own business as the self-employed owner of an early childhood service.

There are so many paths to travel and places to go in early childhood as demonstrated through the below testimonials.

Career testimonial – Clinton Isle

Hi, I'm Clinton. I am an Educator. I've been doing this all my life, my whole career. I stumbled into it accidentally I was studying something completely different at university, a business degree. The church I was going to wanted volunteers at the Sunday school so I started working with children I was only 16 years old, I was only a child myself it gave me a passion for working with children and young people. 

I finished university and didn't want to do anything in Commerce or Business. I just continued with this. I got a job in an Education and Care Service and have been working in the service provider space ever since. In one of my early centres I studied a traineeship to get my certificate three in children's services. It was a really great experience to learn on the job. I went and did my Diploma as a traineeship aswell and at that centre I was working in, a lot of the children were wanting to tell their stories and express their voices in different ways.  

It was a school-based centre. One of the activities we did was radio plays, and after school the children would record their voices and introduce their songs and then we would play it for the school at lunch time the next day. This went on for a little while, and the children wanted to do the next thing.  

One of my interests is filmmaking. I introduced them to filmmaking, that children would write their own stories film them, edit them and then we would have screenings where we would invite the school community and the families to watch the children's films.  

At the same time, a charity in Sydney was wanting to do the same thing. They were wanting to get the children they were working with in Australia and different countries like Laos, Timor Lester, Vietnam. They wanted to get them to produce films and produce stories.  

I came down to Sydney and helped them with that. I did that for a little while and then came back into the service provider space to lead a centre down here.  

As an Educator and a Service Provider, I've always tried to look for those roles where I can contribute to the health, saftey and well-being of children. I did that for many many years, and I have recently had the opportunity to join NSW Education.  

Currently I work as a NSW Field Officer. We work with centres on compliance and quality standards. It does seem to me like almost exactly the same job as I was doing as a Director. We are all in this together, we are working together to improve educational outcomes for children, and improve children's well-being. I would absolutely recommend a career pathway in Early Childhood Education.  

The sector is growing and is never going to go backwards, so there is always going to be opportunities there for you, so you can think about being an Educator in the education and care space. That can give you a lot of pathways to a lot of different things. For me it was filmmaking. We were doing videos in an after school program, and then I suddenly started doing actual filmmaking, and producing short films, and some of them won some awards and that got me another job with the international children's charity.  

Your passion might be food and food safety, so as an Educator you might start preparing meals at your service and then you get your food safety supervisor's certificate.  

You then could be doing consulting for centre's on food and food saftey. One emerging business in this sector is providing menus and meals to Education and Care Service's, so if food is your passion then that is a pathway you could pursue. Perhaps it's child saftey, child protection, work place health and saftey.  

An Educator in a centre that is supporting you to professionally develop, you can use your develop them and then use them to pursue your career. I think being an Educator and working in the space has a lot of benefits that are unique to us. Obviously job security is one of them, because there is thousands of Education and Care centres in Australia and they are all looking for quality Educators.  

I just checked this morning and there is 2000 jobs listed today on seek in the Educator space and then there is the career progression as well, so in the service provider space you could move into other areas such as Educational Leadership, being a Centre Director or Coordinator, Centre Management, moving into the Approved Provider space. Some of the larger organisations are a national body and you can move into management if you want.  

Probably one of the most unique things about us, is we get to have fun in our jobs. It's fun and enjoyable. I think every single Educator that starts sometime in their first week they go home and say, I can't believe today I got to play games with kids and I got paid for it. Every single person has that response when they start, and it does not stop. It's a lot of fun, you work with people that want to have fun as well and it is a really enjoyable career pathway to choose. 

Career Testimonial - Meg Mendham

Hi, I am Meg Mendham and I'm the CEO of CCSA, Community Connections Solutions Australia, here in Katoomba. So I am a qualified Early Childhood Teacher and I studied at Newcastle University where I did my four years Bachelor of Education.  

That part of my career led me to working in a rural community, down in the Central West and I started my career as a Preschool teacher in a multi-purpose centre where there was long day care services, preschool services and occasional care services.  

So teaching led me, interestingly, on a diverse number of pathways, but I guess during that period of being an early childhood teacher on a mobile service was what really grounded me in what teaching was really all about. It was really exciting to work with so many children across so many communities.  

Being an educator and being a teacher is something that is very rewarding in so many ways and I think it's about building relationships and connections with children, with parents and with colleagues that is really one of the strengths that has been very rewarding for an early childhood career.  

I encourage people to think about opportunities and to think about keeping their mind open to being an educator in different settings. Being in a mobile service, being in a long day care service... Out of School hours, family day care, occasional care, preschools... even working in other peripheral or allied health services that actually make a difference to early childhood education.  

I don't think we should title it as just being "an educator in an early childhood service", it's about being a professional working in the early childhood sector and how you can work towards making a difference for children and also making a difference for colleagues and other people that are already working in the field.  

So I encourage people to think more broadly around where they're placed and their fitting might be. There might be an entry point, but there's also other opportunities that are presented along the way. I think the opportunities to be engaged in conversations that genuinely making a difference for children in the future. Certainly, once you have left uni I think there is another whole season of learning around working in the environment, working in the sector, working in the regulation context and also working in a team environment, which I guess, is quite an exciting part of the journey. If you remain open to opportunities and you remain flexible to what could be the next season of your career, there is always something out there that will spark your interest or that will come your way.  

I certainly encourage people to think about a career in education. I would suggest to them to think widely... you know, what does a career in education look like? And is it direct teaching in a classroom or in an early childhood setting that attracts you?  

I certainly think that's the foundation to looking at where else your career might go to. There is a really robust system with the Early Years Learning Framework, a curriculum which really sparks, I guess, a "beyond the gate" and also a strong sense of agency around what teaching can look like.  

I also think that the team environment that we work in now is very committed... we are very committed to each other and we're built on relationships and that is such a strong characteristic of our sector, which has certainly helped us to build resilience over the last 12 months, but I guess, really build resilience over a number of years of changes, and as the early childhood education sector has evolved, that relationships and the connections are really, really important. 

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