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Employers Still Failing Workers with Childcare Needs  

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many employees working remotely did their best to balance their jobs and childcare needs in the home. Now that many workers are returning to the office and schools are remaining open more consistently, companies are once again dealing with how to support their workers' perennial childcare challenges.

Stephen Kramer, CEO of US-based childcare provider Bright Horizons, is giving workers some hope, BBC reports. “Now that employers are calling their employees back to the office, we are seeing an uptick in interest for on-site childcare services,” Kramer said.

For working parents, managing childcare is “absolutely the most important thing on their minds right now,” says Sarah Damaske, an associate professor of sociology, labour and employment relations and women’s studies at Pennsylvania State University. And the pressure to address these concerns are more intense than ever for employers as the pandemic had forced many childcare centers to shut down. The good news for companies can attract and retain talent by offering their staff with employer-provided, on-site childcare facilities, Kramer says.

Dixie Benca, who runs McGee's Scot-Irish Pub, in South Carolina, realized the benefits of on-site childcare. Benca had a tough time hiring back part-time employees after she was forced to close her restaurant for three months. So July last year she launched an on-site childcare center. Not only is she now fully-staffed, but she has a waiting list of applicants. Benca says of her workers using the onsite childcare facility that “not one of them has even considered going somewhere else to work since they’ve been here.”

About 20% of unemployed adults note that they were not going back to work because the pandemic upended their childcare setup, Employee Benefit News reports, citing data from the U.S. Census Bureau. For the unemployed, women ages 25 to 44 were nearly three-times as likely as men to stop working because of childcare concerns.

“Overwhelmingly parents don't want to go back to the office,” says Leslie Ford, CEO and founder at Mom’s Hierarchy of Needs. “But essential workers are in roles that can't be done at home—doctors or researchers or teachers—or [sometimes] employees are in positions where they really have to be in the office. In those scenarios, what's made people the happiest is when their employer has made it really easy for them to bring their kids to work.”

A pilot childcare program in Michigan splits the cost of childcare equally between the employee, employer and the state, WNEM reports. The goal of the program is to make quality childcare affordable for families, while helping employers retain existing staff and attract recruits, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer says.

“The pandemic has only exacerbated the reality that without affordable childcare, less parents can fully participate in the workforce,” says Susan Corbin, director of the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity. “As we continue down the path of building a new, better economy for Michiganders, we must find ways to decrease the costs that put stress on family budgets, like childcare.”

Some private companies have begun to offer on-site or near-site childcare centers, as well as expanded backup care, NPR reports. One Utah biotechnology company launched an on-site center last July at its Salt Lake City headquarters. Such a center was something CEO Chris Gibson always wanted when he started Recursion Pharmaceuticals in 2015, says Heather Kirkby, chief people officer at Recursion.

“He knew that if we were going to found and scale this kind of company that he wanted to build, he didn't want to convince people to move here and then have them struggle with finding child care," Kirkby says. The company subsidizes part of the tuition for the center. It is currently open to community members and is yet to reach full capacity with the employees. "There is just a childcare shortage in Utah," Kirkby says. "It's the number one challenge for working women.”

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