More men have been urged to work in nurseries to help address a chronic shortfall in the number of childcare staff across Scotland.
An extra 18,000 new workers will be required by 2020 to meet a Scottish Government commitment to expand free childcare places, but not enough new members of staff are being trained to fill the vacancies.
Currently some 95 per cent of all students who train in childcare services at Scottish colleges are female.
Stephanie Primrose, education spokeswoman for council umbrella body Cosla, called for a shake up to make a career in childcare more appealing to men as well as other groups such as older women with grown up children.
Speaking at a meeting of the Scottish Parliament’s education committee she said: “We need to have a serious look at how we present this as a career and we need to make people realise childcare is a very worthwhile and important profession.
“We need to have an approach to this so we are not just looking at young girls of 16 or 17 going to college. We need to take in people who have had their own families and want to come back in.
“We need to expand the traditional workforce and target men and we need to make sure men realise that, just as they can teach, they can work in childcare.”
Claire Schofield, director of policy for the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), told the committee the shortage of staff would be a “huge challenge” for private nurseries because many offer lower salaries than council-run nurseries and find it hard to retain staff.
The problem has been blamed on a shortfall in the funding private nurseries receive from local authorities to deliver the free hours.
A recent NDNA survey showed 77 per cent of private nurseries reported losses averaging £1,128 per child per year for three and four-year-old which is predicted to double when the entitlement increases from 600 to 1140 hours.
Ms Schofield said: “We need investment and we need to make it much more of an aspirational career path so people see it as a profession they want to join.
“However, there has to be the reality to back it up and so we need to make sure we get a better rate of pay outside local authority centres so people aspire to those roles and can then be developed and can stay in those roles.
“We have already seen that loss into local authority service and it just can’t be sustained. It needs investment and time.”
Maggie Simpson, chief executive of the Scottish Childminding Association, called for councils to use childminders to help meet the expanded targets.