Critical role of childcare recognised in new Skills Strategy to help create a more prosperous, equal society

Economy Minister Gordon Lyons has officially launched Northern Ireland’s new Skills Strategy – ‘Skills for a 10X Economy’ – to support more people to improve their job prospects and fulfil their economic potential. In turn, this will enhance well-being and help to create a better society for everyone.

Consultation on a draft Strategy

Last year, Employers For Childcare responded to a consultation on the draft Skills Strategy. While we welcomed the ambition of the Strategy, to tackle social and educational inequality and crease a more prosperous, resilient Northern Ireland, we called for a stronger focus on the role of childcare in helping to address skills imbalances, reduce economic inactivity, support parents – and women in particular – to access and remain in the workforce, and in driving economic growth.

While there was a commitment in the draft Skills Strategy around the expansion of childcare support to those wishing to participate in lifelong learning, there was no reference at all to the need for a new Childcare Strategy, nor sufficient recognition of the role of childcare as a key element of our economic infrastructure.

The impact of caring responsibilities, particularly on women, was a key theme of feedback received through the consultation.

Critical role of childcare recognised in new Skills Strategy

So it is positive to see a stronger reflection in the new Skills Strategy that childcare, and a new Childcare Strategy, will be key in helping to address barriers to participation in adult learning.  Alongside the previous call for an extension to childcare subsidies for learners, there is now a specific recommendation that “All relevant government departments will support the development of the Executive’s Childcare Strategy.”

While the development of the new Childcare Strategy will be led by the Department of Education, Employers For Childcare – and many colleagues across the sector – have long argued for a more joined-up approach across Government Departments, in recognition of the underpinning and cross-cutting nature of childcare. It is right that the Department for the Economy, and all relevant Government Departments, are involved, and the Skills Strategy reflects that the development of the Childcare Strategy will be overseen by an inter-Departmental Programme Board to ensure that this is the case.

A key aim of the Childcare Strategy will be promoting parental employment, and it is recognised in the Skills Strategy that equality of access to education and skills provision will be a key aspect of this.

A new, ambitious Childcare Strategy must be a day one priority for new Executive

What is needed now is for the ambition of the Skills Strategy to be translated into tangible actions and meaningful progress. For far too long, promises and commitments have been made, with little action taken to follow through.

Delivering the new Skills Strategy will rely on a childcare system that promotes economic participation and enables parents to access work, education and training. This requires investment in an ambitious, fully funded Childcare Strategy that recognises childcare as part of our essential economic infrastructure.

So with the upcoming Northern Ireland Assembly Elections fast approaching, now is the time to see investment in a new Childcare Strategy for Northern Ireland at the top of the agenda – and a day one priority for the new Executive. As well as benefiting children and families, this will help to achieve the ambition of the new Skills Strategy and will underpin the recovery and growth of our economy.

To find out more about Employers For Childcare’s key calls this Election, and the questions we encourage you to put to candidates on the doorsteps, read our Policy Manifesto available here.