NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — As more of the economy reopens – small businesses are struggling to hire.

And you’ve probably seen it firsthand – “for hire” signs in front of restaurants, and posted on Instagram and Facebook.

For one important industry though, this problem is nothing new. Childcare centers are still struggling to find the staff they need.

The problem has layers, and the pandemic is just the most recent and most visible.

But there is some good news coming out of our local childcare staffing shortage: Some local organizations are addressing it next week in a way that will benefit both business owners and job seekers.

“Finding staff for childcare centers has been a challenge for many, many years,” said Dr. Jane Glasgow.

Glasgow has been studying problems in childcare through her work with Eastern Virginia Medical School’s Minus 9 to 5 early childhood development program.

One of the major problems is low pay for providers.

“That doesn’t mean it’s not a great career. There are some pathways where you can start as a teaching assistant or a teacher and then move on up,” Glasgow said.

Felicia Howard has made a career of it and now owns My Joy Childcare Center, which has locations in Norfolk and Chesapeake.

“It is really a career, but it’s a career you don’t get compensated for monetarily. It has to be something from your heart, it has to be something that you really, really want to do,” Howard said.

Over the past year though, Howard has had a tough time finding people like that.

Part of it is COVID-19 safety concerns, plus parents having to quit to help their kids learn virtually.

But Howard says there’s an even big factor at play.

“You have to keep in mind there was other revenues coming in as well. It’s hard as a small business owner, I couldn’t just pay the $600 a week you would be getting for unemployment,” Howard said.

The state requires a certain ratio of teachers to kids. So, Howard has been working in her rooms every day from open to close.

“I have a dedicated staff that’s been with me throughout this whole year, but, I mean, they’re definitely — I can see there’s a wear on them,” she said.

Howard is hopeful that more teachers will come her way through a training program through Minus 9 to 5, in partnership with the United Way of South Hampton Roads and Hampton Roads Workforce Council.

“If that’s where your heart is and that’s something you would like to try, come out and give it a try,” she said. “It is a safe place to work, it’s a fun place to work … There’s not much better than the excitement of a child who’s learning something new.”

If you’re interested in an early childhood career, be sure to check out next week’s program.

It’s a week of free training. Plus, if you accept a job in the childcare field and stay at least 30 days, you’ll get a $200 bonus.

There’s still time to apply by going to this website.

Childcare providers interested in hiring can contact Beth Parker with Minus 9 to 5.