Working with millennial employees in early childhood education

What They’re Saying About You: The Generational Divide In Childcare

Asking educators what it’s like working with their younger cohort brings out the criticism. But this is not a blog post about bashing newbies in the sector.

It’s about coaxing out the comments that they mutter behind closed doors and then sharing these perspectives. That’s why I offered my interviewees anonymity. This way they would speak freely about the issues they had in the workplace with millennial educators. That opened the floodgates of anecdotes from both sides. The emphasis is on anecdotes, not generalisations, by the way.

Observations From The Older Generation

Non-existent supervision skills is an annoyance of a service director working with millennials (born approximately from 1980 to 1995) and post-millennials aka Gen Z-ers (born after 1996).

“We’ll be outdoors and a child will scream. The older educators will immediately scan the play area to see what’s happened and if a child is injured whereas the millennials don’t even look up. It’s just not on their radar.”

She thinks the increase of sub-standard registered training organisations in the early childhood space may be to blame. That’s why her service requires trainees only go to one training provider they know will tick the boxes for them. Despite that, some of her millennial staffers regularly say to her, “I need tomorrow off”.

“I ask them if they have a specialist appointment they forgot about,” says the director.

“They say ‘no’.”

“So, why do you need tomorrow off?”

They never quite answer it with a reason that convinces the director. She explains to them she needs to organise their replacement to ensure she’s covering her child-to-educator ratio, which means her service is legally compliant.

Another senior educator said she sees millennial educators stand back and not really engage much with the children.

“It’s like they think someone else is responsible, that they don’t need to do anything except just be there.”

An early childhood academic says she has to explicitly “spoon feed” most millennials about how to present while on placement. Helping them with things such as being punctual, dressing appropriately, being sun smart, when and how to take a break and responding to management and peers at the centre.

“Some people say millennials are more sensitive to critical feedback because they’re not as exposed to it. I feel we’ve gone through a whole generation of school without the students being exposed to risk.”

Observations From The Younger Generation

A new millennial educator said that during her university studies some of her peers were “personally offended by feedback on teaching and assignments”.

“I got used to it in my final year at uni when people gave feedback all the time. There’s extra pressure when you’re just starting out and you’ve put all this prep into something and you don’t actually realise how difficult being an educator is until you’re in that position.”

As a millennial educator, it surprises her how little the rest of the team values her ideas.

“In my experience, it’s very much about toeing the line and I feel like people just shut me down. People of my generation are happier with change and aren’t afraid of it, whereas if you come into an environment where people have been working for a long time, they’re often not comfortable with change.

“I’d say to people, particularly in leadership positions to ask staff to contribute their ideas regardless of the fact they might not be as experienced as them. I think millennials have a lot of interesting ideas and points of view to offer, different ways of doing things and it’s nice to feel like you can share.”

Technology Might Be That Touchpoint For Sharing

Another non-millennial educator said a misconception between the generations is that millennial educators use their electronic devices more frequently than their peers.

“It’s not necessarily personal use. They might be using it for a program such as Story Path. Or recording observations, or taking photos for documentation purposes. It could look to an outsider who doesn’t use tech much that they’re using it for personal time, though.”

Just in case you think you have a handle on millennials and post-millennials, some pundits say the two are different. The latter are extremely competitive, says David Stillman, author of Gen Z @ Work. The US Centre for Generational Kinetics (CGK) describes this generation as self-aware, self-reliant, innovative and goal-oriented, perhaps even more inclined to stay in a workplace for a decade. However, it might be one of a few jobs they’re juggling.

Millennial educators ask questions, show initiative and hunt down their own solutions often through online research. The one thing that remains constant, though, is the generational divide through the ages.


  1. Christine Soo

    Hi Margaret, thanks for sharing. It’ll be interesting to also find strategies that the non millennial educators and leaders use to connect with this change.

  2. Amanda Hunt

    Yes, this would be very helpful!

  3. Alma Eiley

    As a retired ECE teacher Trainer, I understand that millennial educators may bring innovative and creative ideas to the ECE platform and that is great for advancement of ECE. However, these new teachers can also learn from more experienced educators. Let’s marry the past ECE principles, strategies and approaches with the current ones and avoid throwing out the “baby with the bath water.” The main goal of training for all ECE educators,is to train them how to meet the developmental and learning needs of all the young children that are entruste to their care. How the training is applied when the educators are in the real ECE classroom is what we must monitor and evaluate.

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