With anything up to 400 children in its care at any one time, Little Einstein’s four nurseries on Tayside and two in Glasgow inevitably have a well-organised staffing rota in place – one which makes full allowance for temporary absences due to holidays.
However, even with the most meticulous planning, it simply isn’t possible to guarantee that exactly the right number of nursing staff will be to hand in all circumstances, particularly if – to take a very obvious example – there’s a sudden outbreak of flu at the very time when several people are on holiday.
Company manager Mohan Sharma said, “Of course, numbers of children in our care will fluctuate from day to day and week to week, but when you factor in after-school children spending time in our nurseries – (it’s an important local service provided by Little Einstein’s) – we are potentially responsible for over 400. At the level of care we choose to provide means that even a few unscheduled absences can give us a major headache.”
The nurseries’ first recourse, of course, is to redeploy staff from one nursery to another where this is feasible: if the entire operation is short of just a few nurses this might cause a minor nuisance, but it’s one that can be taken care of with relative ease.
There’s also the fact that as a matter of policy Little Einstein’s deploys a ten per cent surplus of staff beyond the number it actually needs (based on the number of children it expects to accommodate on that particular day), which means if one or two people suddenly aren’t available it shouldn’t, in strictly practical terms, really matter.
“However”, says Mohan Sharma, “sometimes situations arise where no amount of advance planning can stave off a sudden staff crisis. That’s when you would obviously think about calling in agency nurses, but that’s not an ideal solution either.”
He adds, “Even the best nurses need some time to familiarise themselves with the way we operate, and also most agencies need a minimum 24 hours’ notice before they can allocate staff – which is no use if you find you have a shortage for that particular day.”
As a company which prides itself on imaginative problem-solving, Little Einstein’s (whose Tayside portfolio is set to expand with the addition of a new Dundee nursery) has hit upon a novel solution which would – if given the go-ahead – solve the company’s own problem while also offering a useful resource to other nurseries, private and public, facing the same sort of dilemma.
Mohan explains, “We have been looking at the idea of setting up our own nursing staff agency – effectively as a separate company. They would be ‘our’ nurses, trained by our company Thistle Training Services Ltd, fully conversant with the demanding Little Einstein’s standards of care, but they would operate within a firm which would function as a quite separate entity from our main operation.”
He adds, “Whenever any of our nurseries faced a sudden shortage we would then simply call upon the services of our own agency’s nurses, while most of the time, when there wouldn’t be any shortage, the agency would lease out the services of its trained nurses to other companies, or council nurseries, to fulfil exactly the same function.
“This, we think, would deliver a win-win solution for everybody: Little Einstein’s, a growing company, would then have a staffing infrastructure flexible enough to cope with literally any situation, while other operations would also be able to call upon a prime local resource providing staff trained to the highest possible standards.”
Company founder and managing director Deepak Poddar said, “We’re aiming to be the leading childcare provider in Scotland, and this is more about simply filling temporarily vacant places.
“There aren’t many agencies out there, and it often simply isn’t possible to get staff – but even when it is, it’s a fact that agency staff can’t have a sense of ‘ownership’ when they are only in your nursery for a short time.”
He added, “By setting up our own agency services we not only solve staffing problems but also expand our services throughout the company, using our premises to stage birthday parties, offer baby-sitting services and weekend crèche facilities. We can also outsource our services for corporate events, or as a mobile crèche facility in shopping malls – it’s a scheme which offers many positive opportunities.”
Mohan Sharma is Company Manager of Little Einstein’s Kindergarten Limited.