Gender Gap: Desperately Seeking Male Child Care Workers

Published on Spiegel Online International, by Jan Friedmann, Sept. 7, 2012.
(Translated from the German by Jan Liebelt).

Germany is spending loads of money to recruit male child care workers, launching expensive employment campaigns to attract more men into the profession. Many parents want their children to be educated by both men and women, but low wages mean efforts have met with little success so far.

Guido Höper hasn’t finished his vocational training yet, but the 24-year-old has already been inundated with job offers.  

Höper likes to teach children how to “beatbox,” or pretend to be human drum machines using their hands and mouths like hip-hop artists. The assistant social education worker takes his workshop from one children’s day care center to the next in the German port city of Hamburg. But his skills don’t just delight the children. The heads of these day care centers would also love to hire him, and not just for the unusual sounds he can produce.

“I’m valuable partly because I’m a man,” he says. Though Höper is currently taking a break from his studies in social pedagogy, he hopes to earn his certification to be a child care worker soon. After all, he’s already had three offers for full-time positions in recent months.

Male child care workers are probably the most highly sought-after professional group in Germany. Local authorities and private kindergarten operators are scrambling to attract the exotic teachers, staging special events at colleges, setting up information stands at job fairs and inventing all manner of grandiloquent catchphrases. A campaign in Stuttgart is called “Strong guys for strong kids,” while day care operators in Hamburg are recruiting male staff under the slogan “Variety, man!” Beatboxer Höper is featured on one of the posters.

While other men are worried that positive discrimination for women is squeezing male job-seekers out, having a Y chromosome almost guarantees a career in child care.

Wooing Male Workers: … //

Parents Want Male Teachers Too:

Men are in particularly high demand because many parents don’t want their children looked after exclusively by women. According to a study carried out on behalf of the Ministry of Family Affairs, more than a third of mothers and fathers prefer day care facilities that have male staff. The higher the parents’ educational and income levels, the more important they consider having male child care workers.

Iris Wagenblast, the managing director of day care center operator Die Halben Meter, or “The Half-Meter,” in Hamburg’s Eimsbüttel district, can proudly point to her 50:50 staff ratio. An equal number of men and women work in the company’s kindergartens, although there are fewer men in the nurseries. In an attempt to hang onto her male staff and attract even more, Wagenblast gives them extra benefits in terms of training courses and specialization.

Their salaries are also an issue. “Men tell us what they want to earn,” Wagenblast says. “They know what they are worth.” Nevertheless, the scope for negotiation is limited, and the pay isn’t great. Male educators may be as highly sought-after as top-level managers, but they are often paid far less than their drivers.

Staff at the employment campaign headquarters say that many men lose interest the moment they hear what their salary would be. Full-time child care workers initially earn less than some corporate consultants charge by the day. Public-sector child care workers start off at about €2,200 gross per month, while private day care centers often pay even less.

On the other hand, the chances of being laid off are slim, and perhaps such educators will be valued more highly in the future. That could make the profession more interesting for men who are currently pursuing different careers. Michael Baumeister, a departmental head of the Berta Jourdan vocational schools in Frankfurt, recalls how one applicant turned up for his interview in a smart suit. The man said he wanted a change of career now that his son had been born.

He had previously worked as a banker. “He’s the first applicant we’ve had from this particular professional group,” Baumeister says.
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