If you train them better and longer, they will come.
And stay, hopefully, for the long run.
That is what some polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) offering early childhood education courses are hoping for, as they roll out new measures to retain and better equip young talent in the sector.
This year, 24 Ngee Ann Polytechnic (NP) students taking its Child Psychology & Early Education diploma will be the pioneer batch to embark on the school's new Enhanced Internship programme, an initiative under the national SkillsFuture movement, which started in May.
It consists of an observation phase where students visit their assigned mentors and pre-school for weekly in-class observation sessions and participate in an action research project that allows them to design their own study and analyse the findings based on their practical experiences.
The internship proper phase starts in September and will last for 5½ months - almost twice as long as the previous three months. Next year, 97 Temasek Polytechnic (TP) Early Childhood studies students will begin the Enhanced Internship in March, followed by another 80 ITE students in September.
The Enhanced Internship addresses a shortage of teachers in the rapidly expanding early childhood sector.
"I can take out an advert and not get a single eligible applicant for a month", Mrs Ang Chui Hwa, 52, principal of Far Eastern Kindergarten, told The New Paper.
"I am forced to hire untrained teachers and eventually send them for formal training if they are found to be suitable."
She added: "The Enhanced Internship could inspire pre-service teachers to join the industry as the learning experience would have been better supported through a mentor who is available to help the intern's understanding of the classroom culture."
Dr Lucy Quek, deputy director of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at NP, added: "It's a purposeful way to aid the manpower crunch because we hope that good experiences by interns with proper mentorship provided by the schools will keep them in the industry."
Currently, 670 students are taking one of the two early childhood courses that NP offers.
According to Dr Quek, the percentage of NP students joining the pre-school industry after earning their diplomas has dipped in the past 10 years, but is gradually rising.
There are even some students, she says, who are placed in the course even thought it wasn't their preferred choice in the direct admission exercise.
Early childhood educators The New Paper spoke to said they felt encouraged by the introduction of the Enhanced Internship which they felt will ease interns into becoming properly-trained early childhood teachers after graduating - ones that will take it seriously as a long-term career.
Miss Narayanasamy Pushpavalli, 61, principal of Ramakrishna Mission Sarada Kindergarten, one of the five kindergarten operators involved in the internship, said: "If they have positive experiences, chances are they will say, 'Yes, I will give this a chance'."
Ms Archanaa M Velayutham, 50, who has been teaching at the same kindergarten for 15 years, agreed that it could help change the minds of students who often see early childhood education as a bridge to "better" degrees like psychology.
She said: "(Students) can make use of this to get acquainted with the career... (because) we have a certain number that come in thinking that as long as I finish this internship, I am done."
But even then, there are the salary woes to overcome.
Mrs Magdaline Kang-Heng, 48, a former executive principal of a kindergarten, said: "Students who have passion after the internship will come back after, but keeping them beyond five years is difficult because of the poor pay.
"The Enhanced Internship only deepens the intern's understanding of teaching, but doesn't address issues like poor pay, low social status and little job satisfaction."
Early childhood educators were ranked eighth on the Top 10 worst-paid jobs in 2009, according to the Ministry of Manpower.
Since then, their monthly salary has doubled from $1,100 to $2,262, according to statistics released last month.