With the summer holidays upon us, our Director of Grocery Retail, Nikki Murran, reflects on the realities of juggling childcare while working in retail and looks at what the government could do to help parents and carers in this situation
This summer we planned out our childcare for my 8-year-old – it was like a military operation; involving spreadsheets, booking summer camps (these can be harder to secure than Taylor Swift tickets!), carpool agreements with neighbours, and roping in of grandparents to make up the difference. It was going to be a balancing act, but we were confident we had it covered and my kiddo would likely be a football star by the end of it. (Based on the number of hours he would be playing and the amount of money we were spending anyway!)
The first day of the first camp started with thunderstorms and a cancelled camp. Thankfully Nana was happy to help, and we figured it was a once-off. Day 2 he fractured his wrist. After the doctor explained it was 4-6 weeks of downtime my devastated son asked in the car – what about football camp? GAA camp? Golf camp? Hurling Camp? Athletics Camp? “What indeed!” I thought!
We went back to the spreadsheets, back to the grandparents, and back to our bosses. We both shifted our summer to add a little working from home and within a few hours – problem solved.
It made me think, though – what if I was still working in retail? Working from home would not have been an option. What if we both were? What about the 300,000 people working in retail in Ireland this summer? How many of them have kids? What do they do on thundery days or when an arm gets fractured, or a chickenpox appears?
In a recent survey conducted by Excel Recruitment, it was found that 6 in 10 workers feel the cost of childcare is unaffordable. The survey also found that 58% of couples with children said their partner had to give up work due to the cost of childcare – and in 62% of these cases, the person that left the workforce was female.
My 3-year-old daughter is in a wonderful creche – they love her, she loves them, they paint, dance, go to the beach, the park, and plenty more. It’s expensive, like a second mortgage expensive, but they have early drop-off and late collection. However, it still means that one of us does a later shift so we can drop – and the other does an earlier shift to be back in time for collection. If one of us worked in retail, I can’t help but wonder how we would manage.
How do single parents, working in retail or hospitality juggle it all? How do they find childcare at the weekend? In evenings? On Christmas Eve? New Years Eve? All these peak trading days?
With a continued staffing crisis, and Ireland reaching its lowest level of unemployment in 20 years it’s imperative that all is done to ensure those willing to work are given the opportunities to. But with the current cost of childcare and the lack of childcare outside office hours, we are blocking a large cohort of available talent from the retail sector.
The government should do more, it should fall to them to make childcare more affordable, give better support to childcare providers, incentivize more flexibility from employers, and look for more novel approaches to combat this issue.
However, the government moves slowly, and the staffing crisis is upon us now, so it falls to retailers to look for workarounds. In recent months, more and more of my clients are adjusting their hiring practice to welcome part-time staff for full-time roles. I have placed a handful of Deli Managers working 4 days, an Assistant Manager who needs Wednesday nights and Thursday mornings off while his partner (a Nurse) does her long shift, and a Store Manager who needs most Saturdays off as he coaches his daughter’s GAA team. These candidates would have been unplaceable a couple of years ago, during a time when retailers were demanding full flexibility from employees. But the time has arrived where it is now employees demanding this flexibility from employers!
The main tool retailers have in their arsenal to tackle this issue is their store rota. What is working for many retailers is doing the rota weeks in advance, rather than just for the following week – often this extra notice is enough for parents to adjust childcare needs. I’ve also heard of successes with partnering, particularly in local stores – where a role is divided between two staff members – both with kids in the same school – here, they split their job, and both worked a 3-day week – covering the store for 6 days rather than 5 and they minded each other’s kids on the respective days off – it was a win-win for all.
From the feedback we have gotten from retailers making these adjustments – the best advice on offer seems to be open-mindedness – ruling nothing out and spending just a little longer on the scheduling and giving staff more input into the rota from the outset. These tweaks may cost a little time each week, but ultimately may result in a more dedicated, loyal workforce – seems a worthwhile trade to me!
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