LA CROSSE Wis. (WLAX/WEUX) – The childcare industry has been dealing with a shortage of workers for several years, which was made worse by the pandemic. Like many areas across the country, the Coulee Region is facing a childcare shortage due to a lack of workers.

“In March in La Crosse County, there were 74 open childcare positions, and that accounted for at least 296 unfilled slots that if we could just hire people to work in childcare, we could increase capacity by almost 300 children.”

Audra Wieser with the Parenting Place in La Crosse says more attention is being paid to the issue as a growing number of families struggle to find care.

“There’s a lot of federal funding and a lot of state funding being directed towards childcare. We’re optimistic that there will be some really innovative and new programs coming down the pike.”

One of those programs is coming from the Parenting Place itself, which is looking to get area teens interested in childcare careers. The Parenting Place is launching a Childcare Explorers program this summer, where high school students will learn necessary skills to work in childcare.

“Child development, challenging behaviors, different curriculums, Waldorf, Montessori, all those different things. Plus, certificates when they come out where they’ll get CPR certified, and abusive head trauma, and SIDS prevention.”

Training coordinator Sara Horstman believes teenagers are an untapped resource to fill childcare vacancies. She hopes the program will create enthusiasm about joining the childcare workforce.

“When people are passionate about something, they’re willing to stay into something very long, so we’re really hoping to bolster the workforce, build that passion, so that they maintain this career path.”

The Parenting Place is capping the first year of the program at 25 participants. Horstman expects the training sessions to begin by early July. The Childcare Explorers program is being funded by the La Crosse Community Foundation and federal relief money awarded to the city of La Crosse.