Dec 7, 2016

Opinion: Childcare can be economic engine

Thank you for the informative article on the recent history of the Dealer.Com buy-outs in your Sept. 29 edition. I was particularly interested in the priorities that Senior Vice President Wayne Pastore emphasized to encourage further growth in the Vermont business sector. I wholeheartedly agree with his suggestions to increase the number of flights at the Burlington airport and to ensure that our schools are competitive in order to attract and retain workers with families.

Mr. Pastore also noted that, in general, Vermont should prioritize attracting more large businesses, such as his own, which can provide a significant number of quality jobs in the area and drive further economic growth. I would add an additional priority to help attract high-quality job candidates for current and future Vermont businesses, and help to truly set the Vermont job market apart when compared to other areas: significant investment in policies that support working parents.

There are a number of factors that make it difficult to be a working parent, especially at the larger companies that we might hope to attract to Vermont. As this paper has noted several times before, an obvious issue that needs to be remedied is the lack of quality, affordable childcare facilities in Vermont overall. What childcare facilities there are often have long waiting lists, and can be quite expensive.

The pressure and schedule of a particular work environment can also present significant challenges to those with families. They include a lack of adequate parental leave after the birth of a child, a lack of options for flexible scheduling and a work culture that is not supportive of those with families. Such pressures may cause one parent to decide to stay home permanently, or lead to stress, burnout and “under-performance” for those who must juggle their multiple responsibilities at home and work. This usually results in a net loss both for the employee and for their place of employment. For those who decide to leave their jobs entirely to stay home, it can be difficult to jump back on the “career track” later on, while the business loses the benefit of this employee’s experience and institutional knowledge, as well as the chance to continue developing this employee.

Before moving to Burlington this summer, I worked as a project manager at a large Silicon Valley company where I faced these very issues. Once my family moved to Vermont, I decided to stay home with my young child full time while my husband works. However, I would be very interested in returning to work if I could find a situation that offered more flexibility and support for working parents. I have met many mothers and fathers here in similar situations. While they are currently staying home with young children as their partners work full time, they would also like to be working (for financial and personal reasons) but have a lack of flexible, supportive work options.

Several “stay-at-home” parents I’ve spoken with are trying to start small businesses on the side or be part of “multi-level marketing” companies. However, these situations often do not bring in very much money and may not draw on skills developed in previous jobs.

Vermont businesses that could offer better support to working parents would be truly attractive and make the job market here unique among American companies;. Such work environments were certainly rare in San Francisco and D.C., where I previously worked.

Families are a great asset to Burlington and key to Vermont’s economic future. If parents had enough flexible and supportive work options at Vermont companies, as well as more abundant options for childcare, they could contribute even more to Vermont’s economy and promote growth for years to come, as well as attract more people and companies to this lovely state.

Caroline Henne lives in South Burlington.

Click here to read this article online in the Burlington Free Press. 

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