The industrial worth of early childhood educators

Industry … it is a word I have heard spoken in and about early childhood education and care (ECEC) since I first began working in ECEC centres 20 years ago. I have never liked it (to the point of visibly cringing mid-way through a conversation if I hear it). Back then, I couldn’t explain why. I didn’t know; I just knew that I didn’t want to accept I was a part of an ‘industry’.

Politicians often use the word to describe us, as do journalists and social commentators. Worst of all, early childhood educators say it most often when referring to themselves as a collective group. All these years later, I still haven’t accepted the word and I still refuse to identify my work as part of an industry. But now I can articulate why. Industry, by definition, is something that manufactures duplicate products. Learning is not a product. Children are not products, and we do a major disservice to the rights of children and to the professional and skilled work of our educators if we view them this way. If early childhood educators want to be valued and recognised for their worth to children, families and communities around Australia, we all need to stop using this word.

Our work is clearly identified (and valued) by our current federal government for its affordability and accessibility and as part of the wider economic market to support workforce participation. Ironically, in the eyes of the government, we are an industry, even though industries operate ‘according to market rules’ and should not receive government funding or support to continue operation (Corr & Carey, 2017, p. 154). ECEC, by that definition, is a market failure and industrial workers within a failing market will never receive high levels of training, status or pay.

Of course, all the everyday ‘market rules’ have turned on their heads in our current world. In 2020, the government scrambled to keep our ‘industry’ and many others operating through considerable funding and workforce incentives. ECEC was considered alongside other major market players, such as the airline and hospitality industries, all seen together as crucial for the long-term stability of the economy. Since then, early childhood educators have been attempting to advocate that we are not the same—that our worth is much more than the current ‘market value’—while continuing to call ourselves an industry!

If we want to succeed in changing the way politicians and society view us, we need to stop. Stop saying we are an industry. Refuse to accept the word when it is said by others to describe our role and our worth. The provision of education and care is not, nor should it ever be, an industry. I encourage you to find other words—for example, sector and profession, as our peak bodies refer to us—to inform others (and ourselves) about who we are as a collective and about the immeasurable value of the work we do.

What are your thoughts on this?


The catalyst in bringing my thoughts to words here was the 2017 research paper by Lara Corr and Gemma Carey.


Corr, L., & Carey, G. (2017). Investigating the institutional norms and values of the Productivity Commission: The 2011 and 2015 childcare inquiries. Australian Journal of Public Administration, 76(2), 147–159.


Tanya Burr

Tanya is a lecturer and researcher in the School of Education at ACU in Brisbane. She is currently completing her PhD at Macquarie University with her research focus on infant and toddler pedagogy. Tanya has a background in psychology and the early years. She has worked as a teacher, centre director, and early childhood consultant for state-based and national organisations for the past 20 years.

12 thoughts on “The industrial worth of early childhood educators”

    Catharine Hydon says:

    thank you, Tanya… wholeheartedly agree.

    Fay Hadley says:

    thank you Tanya, absolutely agree! Can we also stop saying on/off the floor – we are either teaching or we are on release from face to face teaching just like our Primary and Secondary colleagues.

    molly Rhodin says:

    Tanya, a wonderful address and reminder to all that language is a powerful tool.

    Carmen Huser says:

    Loved reading your words, Tan, and fully agree.

    Genny Frazer says:

    Very well written Tanya. “Industry” should have been done away with when the EYLF and NQS was introduced. I agree, “profession” is the best description. It would be wonderful if “Educators” were referred to as “Early Childhood Professionals” too, really lifting the bar and encouraging more recognition and respect for the dedicated and specialized positions we hold in the profession.

    E. McKernan says:

    We are definitely not an industry but I always describe my work in an ‘educational field’.

    N Staunton says:

    As a qualified educator in a Kindergarten setting I would prefer my worth to be recognised by a rate of pay that is commensurate with the quality and amount of work I am expected to produce every day as well as the high level of experience and knowledge I bring.

    Anne Kennedy says:

    Thanks Tanya, I agree with you, educators are not manufacturing anything on the (factory) floor. They are not ‘the girls’ either or ‘floaters’. The language we use to describe ourselves, our colleagues and our work matters!

    Rosa L Triulcio says:

    Cannot agree with you more. It drives me crazy even more when I see for example Facebook posts by educators that explain their job as an industry. When will educators see our job as a profession. It all starts with us, if we see our jobs as a profession then maybe this will filter through to governments and society.

    Absolutely! Professional language is something that I’ve been advocating for years in our sector. Terms like industry, the girls, on the floor, etc; do us a disservice and do nothing to advance our pleas for professional recognition. Words have power, and they are used strategically and purposefully to maintain the low status and pay of early childhood educators. We unpack these terms and more in our Critical Reflection conferences through the lens of critical theory. The example that we often draw on is how the National Quality Framework for Education and Care essentially overnight became child care when the incoming LNP government launched a productivity commission enquiry into ‘child care’, with one of the recommendations of this being to water down qualification requirements, because essentially ‘any women can care for babies’. The omission of references to education in our sector is in my view an effective and strategic move to keep downward pressure on salaries. As I frequently say in our Critical Reflection conference, language is powerful (hence our discussion of critical theory), and we are often as a sector our own worst enemy when it comes to the way that we describe our work. Professional language is an advocacy tool! I also say, when a family member rings to speak to a teacher in schools, they would never be told that the teacher was ‘on the floor’. They would be told that the teacher was in class, or teaching. Reframing of language sends a powerful message.

    Karin Hill says:

    Correlates with my dislike of our sectors service station uniforms. I don’t mind guidelines, or even a uniform so to speak, but I do feel like and industrial worker in these polos.

    Kruti Thakkar says:

    Very well written Tanya. “Industry” should have been done away with when the EYLF and NQS was introduced. I agree, “profession” is the best description. It would be wonderful if “Educators” were referred to as “Early Childhood Professionals” too, really lifting the bar and encouraging more recognition and respect for the dedicated and specialized positions we hold in the profession.

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