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Bright Horizons Family Solutions Optimas Award Winner for Innovation

The day care provider meets increased demand and tougher accreditation standards with online training that helps workers better serve families.

September 7, 2011
In 2005, Bright Horizons Family Solutions, a national day care provider, faced a looming teacher shortage amid a boom in the day care industry that coincided with more stringent workforce accreditation standards.

With so many dual-income households these days, it’s no surprise that day care is a growth industry. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the day care workforce will grow 34 percent in the 10 years ending in 2016—more than three times the national projected rate of employment growth.

That boom in day care has prompted the industry to raise its standards. In 2007, the National Association for the Education of Young Children, an industry group that accredits early-childhood programs, required that each classroom be staffed by at least one teacher who is certified as a child development associate or has a college-level degree.

To keep up with the company’s own projected growth—at 5 percent annually, higher than the national average—and to meet the new accreditation standards, executives at Bright Horizons realized they would need to make some changes. Rather than look outside for more qualified teachers or for schools to train them, the company decided to train the workforce it had—most of whom were women with only a high school diploma.

Bright Horizons established an online child development associate program to give workers the skills to pass the industry’s certification test. The non-classroom training includes online modules, group conference calls with other students and teachers, writing assignments and contributions to a class blog.

So far, 86 percent of those enrolled in the program complete it and almost all go on to become certified in the child development associate program. The company has trained 400 employees in the program; most complete it within 18 months.

An additional 1,000 are currently in training. The training helps workers maintain their accreditation but has also had another benefit: It gives employees a deeper connection and greater confidence in caring and educating children between the ages of 6 months and 6 years.

“They really seem to get why we do what we do,” says Linda Whitehouse, Bright Horizons’ vice president of education and training. Those who complete the program and pass the certification test also receive a 10 percent raise.

While that has proved to be a powerful incentive, so too is the prospect of career advancement.

Martha Echevarria, 33, is an educator with Bright Horizons in Lyndhurst, New Jersey, 30 miles north of Rutgers University, where more than a decade earlier she had spent a few unfocused semesters before deciding she wasn’t cut out for college and dropped out.

She completed the online child development associate program offered by Bright Horizons in 13 months and is now applying the credits toward a college degree, erasing her sense of failure.

“I think having more knowledge in general makes you more confident,” Echevarria says.

Before the training, she worried about what to say to parents who came to her with questions and concerns. Now, she makes it her job to connect with parents and give them updates on their child’s development.

“I felt like I had answers to their questions,” she says. “I didn’t have to run away from the parents. I could reach out and pull them in, even the parents who want to drop off and run.”

This year, Echevarria was promoted. She now makes $31,000 a year—a 20 percent increase from what she made before she took the online course.

She also manages a dozen educators, some of whom are going through the online program and experiencing a similar transformation about the way they care for children. “I see the change in the girl who is just starting,” Echevarria says. “She is asking questions she never asked before. … I call it your light bulb going off.”

For creating an initiative that addresses its need for an accredited workforce while enriching its employees’ professional development, Bright Horizons Family Solutions wins the 2009 Optimas Award for Innovation.

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