No Job For A Real Man?

Care Appointments Scotland spoke to two men who are working hard to achieve a gender-balanced workforce in the Scottish child care industry…

Some surveys put the figure of men working in the childcare sector at 20% of the workforce, while others contend that this figure is less than 5%. Historically there has been a certain, and entirely unwarranted, stigma attached to being a man working in childcare, after all, ‘it’s no job for a real man’. Also the pay and promotion prospects have been the subject of a great deal of negative press coverage. Suffice to say, attracting men to work in the sector hasn’t been the easiest of tasks.

Two men working hard to change this situation are Neil McMillan, Project Manager of Men Can Care, a programme aimed at increasing the numbers of men working in childcare in Scotland, and Kenny Spence, Manager of Men in Childcare, an organisation that promotes men working in Early Years.

McMillan is in no doubt as to where change must come from.

“The solution to men’s under representation in child care runs deeper than simply creating posts and training opportunities. Although things are changing, caring for children continues, mistakenly, to be seen as a ‘not very manly thing to do. We need an attitudinal shift in Scotland, around perceptions of what it means to be a man and that requires cultural change. I also think the media have a serious role to play in addressing the way they shape popular public perceptions of men.”

With schemes such as Men Can Care and Men in Childcare in place, the subject is gaining prominence and much good work is being done to achieve the collective aims. Kenny Spence is hopeful that the gender imbalance can be significantly addressed and improved in the coming years.

“I feel that if we were able to achieve around 10% of the workforce as males we would have gone a significant way to addressing the gender imbalance. Men in Childcare’s aspiration is that over the next five years the number of men in Early Years increases to around 5%, and given the number of men undertaking the training, this would be feasible. Over the next ten years, 10% would be great. However, this will require a great deal of work – once we get the figures up the trick will be to keep them up.” {mospagebreak}

Neil McMillan too, is obviously keen to increase the numbers of male workers in the sector, but sounds a warning note for the future.

“Certainly I would like to see more (men in working childcare), but that is going to require a lot more work and probably a lot more initiatives like ours. Unfortunately our project is part funded by ESF money, which will diminish significantly at the end of 2006 with the new accession countries coming in to Europe. When the funding ends, so does the project. The most important thing to me is that we have a more emotionally intelligent male workforce in childcare, that’s what I want to see achieved.

“For me, Men Can Care is not simply about getting more men into childcare, it’s about getting the right men in. Our programme offers a module that looks at the issues around masculinities and what it means to be a man living in Scotland, particularly a man working in childcare. It explores the negative profile that men have and helps participants to understand the roots of this as well as challenging their own emotional intelligence.”

In 2003 the Scottish Executive were aiming to increase the number of men in social care by 10% by 2004 and a recent study by the Equal Opportunities Commission investigating gender segregation in apprenticeships found that, in Scotland, only 4% of the childcare workforce was male. But aside from hitting targets and improving on statistics, why should there be an increase in the number of men working in the sector? What are the benefits for the sector, its stakeholders, its workforce and, most crucially, its clients? Neil McMillan is crystal clear in his response to this question and in terms of who will benefit most.

“While the percentage of women remains high in statutory childcare settings, the clients served, particularly in residential child care, are more than 80% male. Many of these boys have had negative experiences of men in their lives as perpetrators of domestic violence and abuse or indeed simply as absent fathers. Having more men in these areas of childcare is not just about a compensatory model but about showing boys that men have so much more to offer than they have experienced and providing appropriate role models that will allow these boys to grow in to healthy and happy young men.

“On the same day in 2004 when we started our Men Can care programme the 48th session of the UN commission on the status of women were meeting in New York and concluded that Òthrough training and education men need to be encouraged to fully participate in the care and support of others including older persons, children, people with disabilitiesÓ. I feel this illustrates well that more men in childcare is not just about achieving equality for men, but also for women.”{mospagebreak}

We asked both Neil and Kenny to explain the strategies that their respective organisations were employing to encourage men to seriously consider a career in the sector.

Neil outlined Men Can Care’s ‘earn as you learn’ approach as well as the ways in which they have challenged perceptions of this kind of work.

“Men Can Care has provided more than just training to men interested in working in child care, we have provided real jobs. Our programme offers men the opportunity to train while they work directly with children and young people as well as being paid for it. We have found that this is an attractive package. Most of our applicants are men who are thinking about a career change but have financial commitments that would preclude them from giving up work and going to college. Therefore what we offer meets their needs.

“We have also spent a long time looking at how we market a career in child care to men. Each intake we have, we are overwhelmed with applicants, and such is the success of our recruitment campaigns, a large voluntary sector child and youth care organisation in Scotland facing a staffing crisis have just replicated our recruitment programme heralding fantastic results. Moreover, the National Workforce Group at the Scottish Executive has sought advice around our recruitment strategy.”

Kenny explains how Men in Childcare is funding training courses for budding male care workers and raising awareness across the countryÉand beyond.

“The Scottish Executive and the Edinburgh Childcare Partnership fund Men in Childcare and this has allowed us to do a great deal of work on a national basis, taking the success of the Edinburgh Project and rolling it out to other parts of Scotland. We work closely with colleges all over Scotland to provide childcare training for men. Firstly, we provide an introductory course, then a fast track, then an HNC. Men in Childcare pay for all of the training costs and in the cases of the introductory and the fast track these are commissioned by us. Every year men in childcare hold international conferences and this year’s is in London. We have strong international partnerships and have recently been to Poland to help set up a Men in Childcare there.”{mospagebreak}

Returning to the theme of pay and prospects, both men agree that there are very real career development opportunities for men in the sector. Kenny Spence believes that the very simple scenario of demand for men working in the sector outweighing current supply means that opportunities abound.

“Early Years organisations such as Nurseries and Child and Family Centres are very keen to increase the number of men in their workforce and, given the low number of men currently in the workforce, career prospects are consequently good.”

Neil McMillan highlights the fact that the vast majority of Men Can Care’s ‘graduates’ remain within the care sector, post-training.

“The prospects are excellent. Of the 34 men we recruited on to the programme last year, only three of them are in non-care related employment. For these men, what they learned was that social care was simply not for them. 22 of the group have gone on to further training in social care and will complete their HNC in Social Care with SVQ level 3 this year. Trainees have been taken on across a range of social care employment although most have found work in childcare. A couple of the trainees went to work in learning disability, one went to work in a residential drug rehabilitation unit, and another went to work in a community youth support project. Importantly, most found gainful employment in the caring profession.”