Staff wages and benefits are important factors in a program’s ability to attract and retain a qualified workforce. Research shows that higher staff turnover is associated with lower wages in child care programs, so learning how your program’s compensation compares to others is an important strategy for fostering a stable workforce. And with widespread staffing shortages in the child care industry, compensation is more important than ever.

How does a program know if what they offer is competitive? The key is analyzing your program’s employee compensation system as compared to other organizations that offer similar services and have similar demographics – a wage and benefits and comparability study.

The Head Start Act is clear about the importance of reasonable wages, which are neither in excess of the average rate of compensation paid in the area where the program is carried out (for comparable positions) nor less the minimum wage rate. While minimum wage is a known factor, compensation for comparable positions will require some work to uncover – and might change over time. This is one reason why it is important for programs to conduct wage and benefits comparability studies.

A thorough study will include internal and external data sources. Internally, you’ll have payroll data, benefits information, and job descriptions that will help you to align data to other sources. Externally, consider gathering data from sources such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics or public school districts. A strong study will also include a survey of comparable agencies within and surrounding your program’s service area.

Before you begin a wage and benefits comparability study, consider what you know from your own program data and observations. Is your program seeing turnover in certain program areas? Are you noticing trends related to the reason staff are leaving the program (e.g., higher paying positions)? Or going to similar places, like local public schools? Start a list of what you know and what you will want to find out to make sure your study will collect information that will be most useful to your program.

The primary resource we recommend for programs conducting a wage and benefits comparability study is the Office of Head Start’s Guide for Conducting a Wage and Fringe Benefits Comparability Survey. This guide offers a step-by-step approach to conducting a survey and provides guidelines for using wage and benefits comparability data. Other tools, such as the Office of Head Start’s Employee Compensation Checklist, provide guidance to inform a study and take action once a study is completed.

Foundations for Families is experienced at conducting wage and benefits comparability studies for community-based organizations as well as multi-organizational studies covering a statewide geographic area. No matter how big or small your program is, we take a unique approach to conducting a study that involves data gathering from public sources, identifying survey participants, and implementing a survey that will yield detailed and useful data.

We encourage you to explore Foundations for Families’ Consulting Services. If your program needs assistance conducting a wage and benefits comparability study, please be in touch. Our team of consultants will work with your program to determine a process, timeline, and approach that is the best fit for your needs.

Thank you.

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