Mums Turn Backs On Nursery For Flexible Working

Nearly a fifth of nursery places in Wales are vacant as parents juggle their working hours to look after their children themselves. Thousands of positions for pre-school childcare remain unused as women take advantage of an increasing willingness among employers to offer family-friendly flexible working hours.

Researchers have identified a change in attitude among employers over the past decade which has led to more efforts to accommodate family commitments through arrangements such as flexi-time and part-time working, and a greater propensity for working at home due to new telecommunications technologies.

A report by market analysts Laing and Buisson has revealed that 19.5% of nursery places in Wales are now vacant. Across the UK, the vacancy rate is 22%, compared to 11% just five years ago.

However, fears have also been expressed that the unused places are due to the high cost of private childcare. A week in a Welsh nursery costs, on average, £132, compared with an only slightly higher figure of £138 across the UK, despite the significantly lower average wage in this country.

Professor Keith Whitfield, an expert in labour markets and human resource management at Cardiff University’s business school, was one of the researchers behind the 2004 Workplace Employment Relations Survey, one of the most widespread studies on employment attitudes.

“There’s been an increase in the proportion of workplaces that have in place practices that give workers a greater chance to vary their working times to accommodate their work activities,” he said. “What was interesting in the report that was produced was that there was a change in the workplace both in terms of the attitudes of the managers and the range of practices that were in place to give workers the opportunity to vary their working time commitments to allow for the non-work activities.

“One of the key changes that the survey found was that there was a reduction in the number of managers who felt that work-life balance was a sole responsibility of the workers and nothing to do with the workplace, so there’s definitely been a change of attitude in that area.

“What we’ve found was that, since 1998, when the last survey took place, there have definitely been some changes, and in particular on the employer side, and there’s a greater willingness to take on board some responsibility for ensuring that workers have a greater flexibility in terms to matching work commitments with non-work commitments.

“Of course, there’s still a long way to go – there is still a majority of workplaces which believe a work-life balance is still the responsibility of the worker. But in part, the change is out of necessity. A lot of labour markets now have shortages of skilled workers, which means they have to take these things into account or they will no longer have the quality or quantity to be competitive.”

Cardiff-based mother-of-two Janet Bochel gave up work when her oldest son Edward was born and worked part-time when her daughter was born. Now, as deputy chief executive of Taff Housing Association, she works on a flexi-time arrangement, which she says is the most effective.

“When my daughter was born I tried working four days a week but ended up having to go into work on the day I had off, so that didn’t really work out. The way I’m working now works best – it fits with them being at school. There’s nothing like being able to pick the kids up from school.”