In its latest attempt to tackle the early childhood education sector's labour crunch, the government yesterday announced that it would invest $30 million in manpower initiatives over the next three years.

The changes are meant to give more support to new and existing early childhood educators and to help operators attract, develop, and retain their staff - a critical challenge in today's tight labour market.

The initiatives, unveiled yesterday by Acting Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing, include the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) training award for full-time polytechnic students taking the diploma programme in Early Childhood Care and Education at Ngee Ann Polytechnic and Temasek Polytechnic.

Students who receive the training award will get full support for course fees and additional study and professional development allowances. They will serve a one-year bond in the sector for each year of funding support received. The ECDA also announced enhanced professional development and upgrading schemes for in-service educators yesterday.

The new initiatives, to take effect in January, come just two weeks after the ECDA announced that it has set aside $25 million over the next five years to help pre-school operators combat rising cost pressures.

Said Mr Chan: "The manpower initiatives shared today are part of a broader plan to raise the quality, affordability and accessibility of pre-schools in Singapore."

In June, the ECDA revealed plans to include more pre-schools in its Anchor Operator Scheme. First launched in 2009, the scheme offers selected players preferential allocation of choice HDB sites at subsidised rentals and grants to offset operating costs.

The ECDA is now selecting operators for the enhanced scheme, but concerns have been raised about whether there are even enough teachers to support such an ambitious expansion plan.

The agency sought to address those concerns yesterday by announcing its enhanced scholarships and teaching awards for in-service educators.

In addition, Mr Chan said that the government would roll out another tranche of support schemes for non-anchor operators next month, which will focus on capacity building and infrastructure assistance.