Nursery workers care for, educate and play with babies and young children, helping them to develop and learn. Much of the work is with the under-fives, but some nurseries offer after-school and holiday care for older children.
Duties vary according to the employer and the ages of the children, but can include:
Jobs are available at different levels:
Nursery assistants - work under supervision.
Early years practitioners/nursery nurses - responsible for a group of children, with support from nursery assistants.
Team leaders/deputy managers - assist the nursery manager, and may be responsible for a team of staff or specialise in baby or pre-school care.
Managers - responsible for the day-to-day running of the nursery.
It is important to develop good relationships with the parents or carers of the children. Some jobs involve liaison with other professionals such as social workers or speech and language therapists.
Nursery workers usually work around 40 hours a week, Monday to Friday, although hours can vary. Many nurseries open from 8am to 6pm (sometimes longer) to fit in with the working routines of parents.
Part-time work may be available.
Working with young children demands energy and involves bending, lifting and carrying.
Starting salaries for young people aged 18 to 21 may be around £9,250 a year.
There are estimated to be around 232,000 nursery workers in the UK. Numbers are increasing, and the government is encouraging people to enter this field of work.
Nursery workers are employed in day nurseries and children's centres, in both the public and private sectors.
Early years practitioners or nursery nurses, who are qualified to work unsupervised, can also work in nursery schools, or in private households as nannies.
Jobs may be advertised in local newspapers, Connexions Centres and Jobcentre Plus offices. Job advertisements may also be found in The Guardian and Nursery World.
It is possible to become a nursery worker without formal qualifications. However, to progress in this career, and to get on some college courses, it is an advantage to have at least three or four GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), preferably including English and maths.
Young people can start work in nurseries as assistants, and train on the job, possibly going to college part time. Some employers offer Apprenticeships.
Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.
Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.
There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Alternatively, it is possible to start by taking a full-time college course, which will include supervised work placements. These include the Council for Awards in Children's Care and Education (CACHE) Level 2 Certificate in Child Care and Education and Level 3 Diploma in Child Care and Education.
All employers will expect candidates to undergo a criminal records check.
For nursery assistants, who work under supervision, qualifications include:
Nursery workers who work with children unsupervised (known as early years practitioners or nursery nurses) must have a Level 3 qualification or higher. Suitable qualifications include:
Contact local colleges for details of courses and qualifications available locally.
For graduates who are interested in working with children in the early years there is a new training programme, the Early Years Professional Status. Further information is available on the Children's Workforce Development Council website, www.cwdcouncil.org.uk.
The Open University offers courses for people working with young children.
In Scotland, registration of nursery workers has been introduced. From March 2007, early years practitioners with qualifications such as SVQ Level 3 or an HNC can register with the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC). Support workers, qualified to SVQ Level 2 or equivalent, can register from October 2008. A full list of qualifications relevant for practitioners and support workers is available on the SSSC website, www.sssc.uk.com. At present, there is no date by which registration must be completed.
Playworkers work with children and young people to provide a safe, exciting and fun space in which to play, socialise, try out new things or just spend quiet time. Working in teams, they may work with children ranging between the ages of four and sixteen, or with one particular age group.
The idea of freely chosen, self-directed play is integral to playwork and all playwork settings aim to encourage children and young people to decide and control the content and intent of their play by following their own instincts, ideas and interests, in their own way for their own reasons.
A nursery worker should:
Experienced early years practitioners/nursery nurses can move up the career ladder, becoming team leaders, deputy managers and managers or officers in charge. Career progress is often linked to achieving further qualifications.
Qualified and experienced staff can set up their own nurseries. There may be opportunities to work abroad, in large hotels and holiday centres, and on cruise ships.
It may be possible to train for related careers such as teaching, lecturing and social work for people with the right qualifications.
Children's Workforce Development Council (CWDC),
3rd Floor, Friends Provident House,
13-14 South Parade, Leeds LS1 5QS
Tel: 0113 244 6311
Council for Awards in Children's Care
and Education (CACHE), Apex House,
81 Camp Road, St Albans AL1 5GB
Tel: 0845 347 2123
National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA),
National Early Years Enterprise Centre,
Longbow Close, Huddersfield HD2 1GQ
Tel: 0870 774 4244
Scottish Social Services Council,
Compass House, 11 Riverside Drive,
Dundee DD1 4NY
Tel: 0845 603 0891