An important element of any program’s ability to attract and maintain a skilled and motivated workforce is employee compensation. It is essential that Head Start and Early Head Start programs attract and retain qualified personnel to establish and implement high quality program operations and services over time. One of the keys to doing this is analyzing your program’s employee compensation system as compared to other organizations that offer similar services and have similar demographics to ensure what you are offering your personnel is competitive. This is otherwise known as a wage and benefits comparability study.

In fact, the Head Start Act states that the Secretary may take actions, as necessary, to ensure that Head Start and Early Head Start wages 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. Remaining up to date with your own wage study with current and accurate data is one piece of the puzzle to ensuring your workforce is optimally supported.

If you’re planning to conduct a wage and benefits comparability study, consider the following tips:

Take inventory of what you’re observing. As you plan for your study, convene the team who will be working on the project to discuss what you’re observing as it relates to compensation. What feedback have you heard from staff about wages and benefits? Are you noticing any trends with staff turnover, for example personnel leaving the program for higher paying positions at local public schools? Your observations may provide insight in to where to look for data.

Know what you’re looking for. Make a list of all of the positions in your program, and identify how they might align with other organizations. For example, with public schools or with local child care programs. This list will help you to organize data as you gather information.

Review multiple data sources. A thorough wage comparability study will include both internal and external data. Internally, you’ll have you payroll data and 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 the U.S. Department of Labor. If your agency is part of a broader network of organizations (e.g., community action agency) you might also find helpful regional data from the overseeing entity. Locally, you may find that local school districts publish their pay rates publicly.

Ask for information to supplement publicly available data. At the local level finding public data you need could be challenging. In this case, it’s probably best to ask! You might find it helpful to draft a brief salary survey that can be shared with local child care programs, for example, to get the most up-to-date data about wages and benefits provided to individuals working in positions similar to that of your program.

Conducting a wage comparability study can be incredibly helpful for program planning. Consider instances where you may need to justify how you are supporting a high quality early learning workforce. For example, if your program is writing a competitive grant application. Having a current and accurate wage comparability study will give you information that will allow you to refine and justify your model and compensation strategies.

Another important factor to think about with regard to your wage comparability study is how it supports program planning alongside your required community assessment. Having a strong community assessment as well as a current wage study will give you a wealth of information about your community, family, and staff needs. In coming months, we’ll take a look at how you can leverage wage comparability and community assessment for program planning, grant writing, and supporting the needs of children and families.

Foundations for Families offers an array of consulting services to programs to you stay up to date on important program aspects such as wage comparability studies and community assessment. Our expert consultants have significant experience conducting these studies and a wealth of expertise in Head Start and Early Head Start program operations. If you’re interested to explore how we can assist your program please feel free to be in touch.

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