Ballarat early childhood educator Kirsty Masinskas is the face of a new campaign to encourage secondary students to consider a career in the early learning and care sector.
After more than 20 years working with young children and their families and various roles in the sector, Ms Masinskas said many people don't realise the career pathways within the industry.
Ms Masinskas, who currently works at Ballarat Uniting Care, has been a sessional kinder teacher at stand-alone and long day care kindergartens, and is now in an administration role where she supports other people working with children and families.
"There's enormous potential for pathways and future careers that extend within and beyond the classroom," she said.
She was drawn to early childhood after completing a Bachelor of Arts at university.
"I did a four year bachelor of arts focussed on literature, film and media and when looking at what career that would offer me I thought I needed to have something more meaningful, creative and something I'm just as passionate about but has a real depth and purpose to it.
"I was drawn to early childhood and the world of kinders and teaching because I can use all of that information and ... I love to learn things as well and in this job you become a portal to the whole world for children."
With a dire shortage of skilled early childhood staff across the sector, the Early Learning and Care Council of Australia has launched the Big Roles in Little Lives campaign to attract more workers to fill vacancies.
In August there were more than 1000 vacant jobs in the sector across Victoria, and there were around 40 jobs advertised across Ballarat and the central highlands this week alone.
"We definitely need more people, more quality people to come and work in early childhood across the board, from Certificiate III in Child Care through to sessional kinder teachers," she said.
Ms Masinskas said that early learning educators bring an incredible depth of knowledge, skills, compassion and passion to partner with families so that their children can grow up into the very best versions of themselves they can possibly be.
"What's so rewarding about my job is that you can see children reaching their potential and growing into their unique selves. You can form real, deep and lifelong relationships with families. There are children waiting for you to be their teacher."
The Big Roles in Little Lives campaign is running across YouTube, TikTok, Instagram and Facebook to encourage teens to enrol at university or in vocational education to study early childhood education.
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ELACCA chief Elizabeth Death said early education was a "future-proof" career with the opportunity to guide the learning and wellbeing of the next generation.
"Early childhood teachers have never been more important for Australian children and families, and for the economy more broadly," she said.
"We know that young Australians, in particular, have been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, with youth unemployment rates more than double that of the general population.
"But there is a great opportunity for young people in the booming sector of early learning and care. The Australian Government has forecast that demand for early learning and care will create an extra 23,900 jobs for early childhood professionals by 2025."
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