Using a Career Pathway to Recruit and Retain Child Care Providers and Educators

In order to reduce the shortage, we need to retain our current child care providers and educators and attract more to the field. Establishing a career pathway is a foundational tool for accomplishing these goals.
using careering pathway

The Ideas & Solutions blog is intended to provide a forum for the discussion of child care and early education issues and ideas. We hope to provoke thoughtful discussions within the field and to help those outside the field gain a better understanding of priorities and concerns.

Originally published in the Spring 2022 Issue of Kansas Child Magazine.

From 2017 to early 2020, Kansas lost more than 5,000 child care slots, according to the 2020 Child Care Supply Demand Report. That was before the pandemic caused an even more severe shortage across the state and the nation.

In order to reduce that shortage, we need to retain our current child care providers and educators and attract more to the field. Establishing a career pathway is a foundational tool for accomplishing these goals. That’s why we’re working to create an official Kansas Early Childhood Career Pathway.

A career pathway offers a visual illustration of the different ways professionals can progress through the early childhood field. For those just starting out, the pathway will provide an at-a-glance view of short-term opportunities, as well as options for growing into a long-term career. These opportunities can either build on an individual’s previous experience in a career and technical education (CTE) program or start at the entry level to help them earn credentials and gain experience. Regardless of the trajectory they eventually take, the Career Pathway can be used as a recruitment tool for young adults who are looking to join the workforce.

For professionals already working in the early childhood field, the Career Pathway will have multiple entry points that acknowledge relevant prior learning and accomplishments. We know that individuals choose to work in early childhood education for a variety of personal reasons. They may not all follow the same path or start during the same season of their lives. For that reason, the Career Pathway will have multiple entry points so that it can be accessible and meaningful to as many people as possible.

Individuals who are interested in joining the early childhood workforce will be able to use the pathway as a reference guide to efficiently leverage their previous accomplishments. They will be able to easily identify where they are on the pathway, depending on the child care setting they are interested in.

The Kansas Early Childhood Career Pathway values both community-based learning experiences and higher education. Although there are more and more resources available to make higher education accessible, this path may not be appropriate for everyone. Including a mastery-based approach on the Career Pathway recognizes individuals’ years of expertise without necessitating higher education or foundational credentials long into their careers.

The Career Pathway will also create curriculum alignment and provide more challenging professional learning opportunities for those who want to continue their education beyond foundational knowledge. Including a mastery-based approach elevates the profession by creating high-quality learning opportunities and offering recognition of tenured educators. Both of these strengthen retention efforts.

Other meaningful retention-related components include job-embedded coaching and mentoring. Without intentional supports built into the infrastructure, working in child care can be very isolating. Job-embedded coaching offers educators the opportunity to improve their competencies and learn new skills in an environment that is conducive to their already demanding schedules. Mentoring is a great way to take advantage of experienced educators who are familiar with the field’s nuances.

The Kansas Early Childhood Career Pathway efforts are ongoing, with a first draft and initial feedback sessions completed. Next steps include incorporating current feedback and creating an implementation plan to benefit the Kansas early childhood workforce. 

View the current draft at

  • Hannah McGahey
    Workforce Coordinator, Kansas Children’s Cabinet and Trust Fund

    Hannah has been involved in initiatives related to the Preschool Development Grant Renewal (PDG-R) and the All in For Kansas Kids Strategic Plan since August 2020.

  • Sara Gardner
    Assistant Director, KU Center for Public Partnerships and Research

    Sara’s project portfolio at KU-CPPR centers around Kansas early childhood initiatives and broader systems-change work. She is the project lead on the Kansas Preschool Development B-5 Renewal Grant, serving as the state’s overall project coordinator for the grant and helping support different governance groups, including the state directors team, the recommendations panel, and the Child Care Systems Improvement team. Before her current role, she worked for 10 years in development for child welfare, housing, and health-related nonprofits in the Kansas City metro area. Sara has an M.A. in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies from the University of Kansas and a B.S. in communications from the University of Miami (FL).