MW SPECIAL FEATURE : Hey Baby – Who’s rocking the corporate cradle?

An invasion of pint-sized witches, ghouls and ghosts is something staff at the head office of children’s clothing company Pumpkin Patch take in their stride. Sharing in the trick-and-treat fun of Halloween is one of the perks of having an on-site childcare facility.
It’s great for team morale, says the company’s general manager, development Carina Hull.
“The staff absolutely love it. There’s always waiting list. We have an on-site pool here as well, so the kids can do swimming lessons and at Halloween they can do trick and treat here in safe environment. It’s great for us as company watching these kids grow up.”
There are close to 400 staff at the company’s head office and distribution centre in East Tamaki and the bulk of them are women, says Hull.
“A lot of them are parents returning to the workforce and it gives them lot of confidence and comfort that their kids are right there. It allows them to continue breastfeeding when they return to work and they can pop down and see their kids on regular basis.”
For staff working elsewhere in New Zealand and unable to access the company owned creche, the company offers $250/month subsidy to use toward childcare.
“We do that because we are family business and that’s really important value for us. It’s not just about saying we’re family-friendly but of really demonstrating our values.”
Established with one store and mail-order catalogue 15 years ago, Pumpkin Patch is now the largest speciality kidswear retailer in Australia and New Zealand with more than 150 stores in this part of the world as well as outlets in Britain and, more recently, the US.
Its child-centred focus extends to providing support for whole bunch of community projects ranging from Cure Kids and Kidz First hospital to Women’s Refuge, Parenting with Confidence and Koru Care. All of which makes on-site childcare pretty logical staff benefit. Opened eight years ago, the Kids Patch childcare centre employs six staff and caters for 22 children aged from three months to five years.
There are no formal measures of its impact on staff retention or recruitment, says Hull.
“We’re not doing it as retention exercise – we’re doing it as value add for our team.”
But Lynne Aim who is PA to managing director Maurice Shadbolt and has had both her boys in the centre reckons there’s huge loyalty factor.
“I feel sorry for mums who have to drop their kids then hurry off – I did that for about 18 months before we opened Kids Patch here. It was huge advantage for me with new baby. Zak went in at three months when I returned to work but he was fully breastfed until nine months. As mum I think that’s fantastic.”
Having the boys literally less than minute from her desk was also great confidence booster.
“If they’re sick, you’re on hand to make sure they’re okay or to take them home. It just takes the heartache out of it. Plus other staff see your kids grow as well – we all know each other’s kids. And even those who have no kids in the centre enjoy seeing them come through the office.”
The sense of family doesn’t end when the kids go to school as the company also offers partially subsidised off-site school holiday programme. Parents can bring their kids to work and they’re picked up from reception, says Aim.
“That’s fantastic benefit because it makes it easier to keep working and because lot of these kids have gone through the creche together, they really enjoy seeing each other again.”
So – great idea but not one that’s caught on in the Kiwi corporate world.

Who cares for the kids?
You can still count the number of New Zealand corporate childcare providers on your fingers, notes Sue Thorne, CEO of the Early Childhood Council (ECC).
“Outside the teaching institutions and hospitals – some of whom are now backing out of childcare provision – employer-funded centres are few and far between.”
Most of them – like the TVNZ centre or Fletcher Building’s Kimba Corner have been going strong for over decade. But flurry of new offerings in the 1990s hasn’t been followed through and some facilities including the on-site creche at Middlemore Hospital and the Auckland District Law Society-supported facility Minor Proceedings have closed – the latter’s winding up in 2004 prompted by the loss of its original central city premises.
A recent EEO study has found the number of companies offering either formal or informal childcare facilities has, in fact, been decreasing over the past few years.
“It shows that the provision of workplace childcare facilities has declined since 2004 (from 18 percent to 12 percent) and after-school programmes or subsidies have dropped since 2002,” says EEO chief executive Philippa Reed.
It’s not that employees don’t want such facilities. When EEO surveyed parents last year to find what helps them cope with the challenges of balancing paid work with childcare, work flexibility topped the most-wanted poll but access to quality affordable childcare was right up there in third place, says Reed.
The fact that some families don’t have this access does impact on the labour market, as report by OECD’s social policy advisor Willem Adema published recently in the Ministry of Social Development’s Journal points out
Using figures from the 2004 Living Standards Survey, it notes that one-quarter of families with child not yet 14 report being affected by the lack of suitable childcare, and this proportion is almost one-half for sole-parent families.
“Labour supply effects are considerable: over 10 percent of adults in couple families and about one-third of adults in sole-parent families have stopped looking for work because of childcare and out-of-school-hours care constraints.”
Others report turning down job offers or having to quit work for the same reason. This despite fairly rapid growth in early childcare facilities over the past 10 years. According to ECC’s Sue Thorne, the number of early childhood care and education centres has jumped by 49 percent since 1996 – from 1174 to 1754 (as at July 2005) with latest provisional figures suggesting further rapid increase.
“By 2005, for the first time, this sector accounted for more than half the kids participating in early childhood education. It’s reached point where 83,889 kids are attending these services and they’re coming at younger ages and for longer periods of time.”
Other early childhood facilities such as kindergartens, playcentres and kohanga reo are either stagnant or declining – probably because their structures don’t allow the sort of flexibility working parents want, suggests Thorne.
The MSD report notes that the “growing importance of enrolments for work-related reasons is illustrated by the upward trend in intensity of participation”. That’s almost doubled in the zero to two-year-old age group over the past 15 years and now sits at around 39 percent, while participation in formal early childhood services for three to four-year-olds is now up to 96 percent.
Childcare is also becoming big business. Alongside the not-for-profit trust or small private centres are several big chains including NZ-listed Kidicorp (which has an estimated 5.7 percent of the local market), Macquarie Bank’s Forward Steps (which entered the market last year with the purchase of 20 North Island centres and now has over 30), and Australian public company ABC Learning Centres – dominant player with more than 750 centres in Australasia and currently accounting for about two percent of the local market.
It is ABC that will be managing the planned Westpac-branded childcare centres that are being set up at the bank’s Auckland head office and in Wellington and Christchurch. The move was announced in September this year and the centres are due to open by mid-2007 with at least 75 places provided in each.
The move, says Westpac CEO Ann Sherry, is in response to call for childcare centres from the bank’s staf

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