The government agency overseeing pre-schools is carrying out a survey to determine the sector's manpower needs as it faces a labour crunch.

The Early Childhood Development Agency is polling childcare and kindergarten operators on their immediate vacancies, turnover rate and staff requirements for the next five years.

While pre-schools have done other surveys on topics such as staff salaries, a spokesman for the agency said this is the first time the Government has conducted one on manpower vacancies.

The agency hopes the project will help it to "develop sound policies and implement initiatives" to meet the employment needs.

Pre-school operators have until June 18 to complete the survey.

Operators told The Straits Times that attracting and retaining staff is a challenge.

Ms Susan Loke, general manager of franchise and marketing at G8 Education Singapore, which runs 63 childcare centres here, said that applicants have been demanding at interviews.

"Some candidates asked for extra transport allowance. Some even told us that they want to work only in air-conditioned centres, not in void decks," she said.

Mr Francis Ng, founder of childcare centre chain Carpe Diem which has 25 childcare centres, receives "very few" responses despite putting up about eight advertisements a month.

Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) childcare manager Sandy Koh said: "For one or two of our centres, we cannot open up more classes as we don't have enough teachers, so we have to turn away some parents. We hesitate to open new centres for fear of not being able to find more staff."

A new centre for 70 children would require 10 to 15 more staff when operating at full capacity, she said. The YWCA has one kindergarten and 10 childcare centres.

Operators added that with the opening of more pre-schools in recent years, manpower supply has to catch up with demand.

There are about 1,000 childcare centres in Singapore, up from 739 in January 2008. As of December last year, there were about 11,000 professional staff in childcare centres, compared with 7,000 four years previously.

But Dr T. Chandroo, chairman of the Modern Montessori International Group, said: "There may be only just enough teachers in the centres. If teachers go on medical leave or resign, it is difficult for centres to take in more kids and they may be barely managing."

He believes the survey, launched two weeks ago, will help the authorities to find a solution. "Collating data, rather than just determining needs based on hearsay, gives the agency more accurate feedback and helps it chart the future direction for the sector."

Meanwhile, Ms Loke suggested slowing down the expansion of childcare centres on the island, adding: "Currently, the number of pre-school teachers cannot catch up with the pace of expansion."

Dr Christine Chen, president of the Association for Early Childhood Educators (Singapore), suggested mentoring programmes to guide young teachers and "keep people in the field".