Are the Wages of Early Childhood Educators Competitive With Other Occupations?

Young women and men make career decisions early in life based upon their capabilities, their interests and the amount of money they might expect to earn.  If there are shortages of early childhood educators, wage levels need to be increased to recruit more educators and retain the ones you have.

Why do we have a huge problem recruiting and retaining staff in licensed child care across Canada?  Fundamentally, it is because the wages of early childhood educators and assistants are not competitive with other occupations that require a college education.  Simple as that, really.

This first table shows the latest data from Job Bank about the hourly wage levels in a range of occupations that require a college education, specialized training or apprenticeship training.  Early childhood educators and assistants appears at the top. Then, health occupations requiring a college education are grouped together, followed by occupations in education and law and in social, community and government services. The final group of occupations are in business, finance and administration. Early childhood educators and assistants across Canada earn an average wage of $20.88 an hour, which is lower than all the others.  Read and weep.

NOC CodeOccupation TitleAverage Hourly Wage
4214Early Childhood Educators and Assistants$20.88
3222Dental Hygienist and Dental Therapists$39.45
3223Dental Technicians and Lab Assistants$25.09
3232Practitioners of Natural Healing$34.41
3233Licensed Practical Nurses$28.28
3234Paramedical Occupations$34.68
3236Massage Therapists$34.36
4211Paralegal and Related Occupations$31.31
4212Social and Community Service Workers$25.18
4214Early Childhood Educators and Assistants$20.88
4215Instructors of Persons with Disabilities$28.51
4216Other Instructors$23.09
1221Administrative Officers$29.00
1222Executive Assistants$31.38
1241Administrative Assistants$24.87
1242Legal Administrative Assistants$26.22
1243Medical Administrative Assistants$22.78
1253Records Management Technicians$29.21

Where does the average wage of early childhood educators and assistants apparently fit on the ladder of occupations?  It is similar to the wages paid for occupations requiring only a high school education or on-the-job training.  Even here, many of the other occupations are paid better than child care.

See the table below that lists occupations requiring only a high-school education, except for the first occupation in which early childhood educators require a college education.

NOC CodeOccupation TitleAverage Hourly Wage
4214Early Childhood Educators and Assistants$20.88
3411Dental Assistants$25.37
3413Nurses’ Aides, Orderlies and Service Associates$21.54
3414Other Assisting Occupations in Health Services$21.83
4411Home Child Care Providers$18.03
4412Home Support Workers, Housekeepers and Related$19.02
4413Elementary and Secondary School Teacher Assistants$23.51
1411General Office Support Workers$23.30
1414Receptionists$19.79
1415Personnel Clerks$25.79
1422Data Entry Clerks$22.54
1511Mail, Postal and Related Workers$22.49
1513Couriers, Messengers and Door-to-Door Distributors$19.38
1521Shippers and Receivers$20.66

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The message is clear.  If we want to expand early childhood education as a profession and have enough educators to offer good quality care at $10 a day, there is no real alternative to raising the wages.  Simple as that.

How much do Early Childhood Educators earn?

How much do Early Childhood Educators earn?  Everyone knows that their wages are low – too low – but it’s hard to find a reliable source of data to make wage comparisons. 

One very interesting data source is a Government of Canada web site called Job Bank (www.jobbank.gc.ca).  It’s a web site designed to help people find jobs and plan their careers by providing information.  And it has a lot of data on many different occupations in many different geographic locations in Canada.

The data on Early Childhood Educators comes from the Labour Force Survey, a monthly survey conducted by Statistics Canada that produces well-known updates of unemployment rates in Canada, but also collects detailed information about wages and occupations.  Each month there are about 54,000 households that respond to the survey about members of their household.

Early Childhood Educators are part of an occupation called Early Childhood Educators and Assistants.  You might know it as occupation 4214 in the National Occupational Code.  However, there is a new revision of this coding system and in future Early Childhood Educators and Assistants will be known as NOC 42202. 

The chart below shows the latest data available for the wages of Early Childhood Educators and Assistants from the Job Bank web site.  We get information on the average hourly wage rate (grey line), the “low wage” level (blue line; this is the 10th percentile of the wage distribution), and the “high wage” (orange line; this is the 90th percentile of the wage distribution).  The exact number for the average wage is shown as a set of data labels on the chart.

The data seems very precise and useful.  It tells us that the average wage across Canada is $20.88 per hour.  However, hourly wages range from about $15 an hour to about $26.50 per hour when we look at the range from the 10th percentile to the 90th percentile.  We can also see that some jurisdictions have  lower wages (the Atlantic Provinces, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta)  compared to other jurisdictions.  We could download similar data from other years and see how wages have changed over time. 

However, the precision of this data is somewhat illusory.  We are, perhaps, interested in finding out the hourly wages of program staff with certificate, diploma or university qualifications (early childhood educators) separately from the hourly wages of early childhood educator assistants who don’t have this level of qualifications.  This data source does not allow us to do this; both educators and educator assistants are grouped together in the same occupation.  Similarly, we can’t get data separately on supervisors and directors as opposed to ECEs that are exclusively employed in direct contact with children.

There’s another problem as well.  We might well be interested only in program staff working in licensed child care centres.   However, this occupation (NOC 42202) includes early childhood educators that work in kindergartens and other early childhood services as well as those in licensed centres.[1]  Elementary School Teachers’ Aides are in a different occupation, as are family home care providers, but still NOC 42202 does not give us a wage for licensed child care centre employees only.

A major alternative source of data is available for Ontario.  This comes from a census survey of all licensed child care providers in the province that is conducted annually by the Ministry of Education.  The last data that has been released on wages is from 2019 (!) https://www.ontario.ca/page/ontarios-early-years-and-child-care-annual-report-2020.

It is likely that the Ministry of Education has data from 2022, but this has not yet been published.  Here is the data from the 2019 Ontario survey. 


This Ontario wage data is collected from centres, so reflects only the wages that are paid to staff in licensed child care centres.  Centre directors are asked to report how many staff with different qualification levels have hourly wages in a number of different ranges.  Wages for early childhood educators with an RECE are reported separately from wages for staff in an RECE position but who needed a director’s approval because of lack of full qualification.  Wages for other program staff (without formal qualifications) are also reported.  Because the data is collected in ranges, it is not possible to calculate either the average wage or the median wage for RECEs and other program staff. 

The median wage is, however, the wage of the staff member in the 50th percentile position.  With 47% of RECEs having hourly wages of $20 or less and 53% of RECEs having hourly wages of over $20, it would appear that the median wage of RECEs in child care centres in Ontario in 2019 was very close to $20. By the same logic, we can say that the median wage for staff with a director’s approval and for other program staff was between $15.01 and $20.

If I use the Job Bank web site to get data on Early Childhood Educators and Assistants for Ontario in 2019, I find that the median wage in 2018-2019[2] was $19.75 and for 2019-2020 was $20. Interestingly, this median is very close to the estimate for RECEs in Ontario that comes from the Ontario annual census survey.

In my next blog post, I will look at wage comparisons based on the Job Bank data.

[1] For example, the Annual Report of Ontario’s College of Early Childhood Educators for 2020-21 tells us that only 56% of Registered Early Childhood Educators (RECEs) in the province are actually employed in licensed child care.  Another 32% are employed in the education sector and 12% elsewhere.


[2] Job Bank uses two years of Labour Force Survey data to get its wage estimates for NOC 42202, averaging the wage reports over the surveys from that two-year period.

Child Care Wages and Workforce Strategies – Looking at Australia: What Do They Have That We Need?

Canada has a crisis on its hands – a child care workforce crisis.  Already, child care operators across the country are unable to find staff; rooms are closing and centres are closing because of the inability to attract and retain early childhood educators.  That’s BEFORE the estimated need for 60,000 new early childhood educators as we move to $10 a day child care. 

Australia is not the first country that springs to mind when looking for child care policies to emulate.  For instance, Australia funds child care with vouchers that encourage the growth of the for-profit sector and lead to ever more expensive child care services.  This kind of funding has made the buying and selling of child care real estate into big business.   

However, Australia does have a wage grid and a strategy for workforce development, which jurisdictions in Canada do not have.  We can learn from their example. 

Australia has something called a Fair Work Commission whose job it is to design the wage grid and set the minimum wages and minimum conditions of employment in different sectors.  Children’s Services is one of those sectors, and the award made by the Fair Work Commission is a legal document that child care employers have to follow.  Employees can bargain for more than the minimum, but employers cannot pay less than the minimum award rate. 

Here’s a link to the Fair Work Commission award for Children’s Services workers updated in November 2022.  There’s a detailed classification structure of qualifications and responsibilities that forms the basis of the wage grid.  The wage grid lays out the minimum hourly and weekly rates that can be paid for different classification levels in children’s services occupations.  The two most frequent qualification levels are for staff with a Certificate III in Children’s Services (typically a 6-month course) and a Diploma in Children’s Services (typically an 18-month course).  The current award sets the starting hourly rate for less qualified staff (Certificate III) at $24.76 per hour and for qualified educators with a Diploma at $29.17 per hour.  Wages rise above these starting rates with increased experience.  Minimum hourly rates for a Director of a child care centre (called long day care) range from about $35 to $40 depending on the size of the centre and experience.

The Children’s Services Award covers many but not all ECEC employees – most others are covered by the Educational Services (Teachers) Award. That award sets out the wage grid for Early Childhood Teachers (ECTs) who have a Bachelor degree qualification (typically a 4-year course) or higher. All ECEC services in Australia must engage or have access to an ECT for a particular amount of time per week, determined by the number of children in attendance. Entry-level pay for an ECT is $32.20 per hour and increases with experience.

Since late 2019, Education Ministers across Australia have led a process involving extensive consultation to develop a ten-year strategy to build up and support the children’s education and care workforce.  It lists 21 actions – short, medium and long term – to be implemented over the ten-year period.  There is an implementation and evaluation plan to shape and ensure progress of this workforce strategy.

On top of all that, Australia is collecting detailed data about its workforce from all service providers (response rate of 99%).  There is a National Workforce Census, which is a population survey of early childhood education and care service providers across Australia.  It collects data on service usage, children with additional needs, access to programs and staffing.  On the workforce specifically, the census collects information about hours of work, qualifications, exemptions from qualification requirements, experience and tenure, professional development, gender, age, and Indigenous status of staff members.  The survey also collects data about whether these staff members earn the award-level wage (as determined by the Fair Work Commission) or a higher wage, and if higher by how much.  So, for instance, in the 2021 Workforce Census report we find that 57% of contact staff in child care centres earned the award rate, 34% earned above the award rate and for 9% of staff the wage rate was unknown.

None of this is perfect, of course.  Early childhood educators in Australia still receive low wages relative to many other workers and there is a movement for an immediate wage rise to keep educators in the sector.  However, many of the elements necessary to know about and improve wages and working conditions are in place in Australia.  I wish I could say the same about Canada.

Do You Want to Know How to Make Child Care Expansion Happen in Ontario?

I’m done some work recently with Building Blocks for Child Care (B2C2) on how to facilitate the expansion of not-for-profit and public child care in Ontario. They are an organization that knows a lot about all the different steps necessary to expand child care services – planning, design, rules and regulations, financing. With their advice, I wrote a primer called How to Make Child Care Expansion Happen in Ontario, giving 10 recommendations for action in Ontario to make not-for-profit and public child care grow.

Briefly, they are:

  1. A system of capital grants and loan guarantees for not-for-profit and public operators
  2. Creating public planning mechanisms with provincial, municipal, school board and community members
  3. An inventory of publicly-owned lands and buildings suitable for child care expansion
  4. Mandate where possible the co-location of licensed child care services whenever business and housing developments happen
  5. Explore the use of Land Trusts to preserve the preservation of child care assets in public hands for future generations
  6. Use provincial legislation and regulations to control transfers of child care assets and ensure they are not controlled by big-box corporate child care chains
  7. Early guarantees of operational funding and licensing of not-for-profit and public operators that plan expansion following public plans.
  8. Development and implementation of a province-wide salary and benefits grid and much more funding to increase compensation of educators and other staff. Recruitment and retention of qualified educators is Job #1.
  9. Transparent and effective future funding guidelines to support expansion. Assistance to municipalities to implement financial accountability measures in a long-term funding model.
  10. Public funding of organizations such as B2C2 that support not-for-profit operators to negotiate hurdles associated with expansion of child care services.

It’s not rocket science. These are some obvious steps to help the necessary expansion of not-for-profit and public child care services. Parents and children will suffer when expansion doesn’t happen. Soon there will be long waiting lists to get into child care facilities in Ontario if the government does not act now.