THE CALL for an army of child carers has met with a huge response, with 26,000 calls to the Government's hotline in its first three weeks.
TV advertisements, posters and booklets went out at the beginning of July in an attempt to attract the 83,000 new workers needed in the sector to meet Government targets for childcare places.
This week, advertisements appeared in women's magazines and the ethnic minority press.
The pound;3 million campaign has been criticised by the Professional Association of Nursery Nurses and the National Day Nurseries Association for requiring only minimum levels of training.
They claim the TV campaign gives the impression that the only requirement to work in childcare is to "like kids".
Seventy per cent of childminders have no qualifications, although from September next year, anyone becoming a childminder must complete a recognised registration course.
In nurseries, creches and playgroups, only half of the staff have to have Level 2 National Vocational Qualifications.
Trisha Pritchard, professional officer for the Professional Association of Nursery Nurses, said the massive response to the campaign showed that "all and sundry" were phoning in.
"The advert and the literature is about blanket targeting. The early-years sector attracts 7,000 to 8,000 recruits a year on average - finding 83,000 people of the right quality in two years is totally unrealistic."
The Early Years National Training Orgnisation said calls to its office had increased three- fold since the start of the campaign, showing potential candidates appreciated the importance of qualifications.
Savita Ayling, director of the organisation, said: "We have been inundated with calls and are receiving up to 100 requests a day. Hits on the website have soared from 200 to 1,500 a week.
"We've taken calls from people who work in completely unrelated fields, while others have worked in childcare in the past. Some have been New Dealers (the Government's work or training scheme for the unemployed). Many have been mothers at home with young children."
Five per cent of inquiries have been from men, particularly single fathers.
The Government's "No one forgets a good teacher" advertising campaign received about 30,000 responses in the first three weeks, three times the number attracted by previous high-profile Department for Education and Employment recruitment campaigns.
A Department of Health recruitment campaign to attract people into nursing received 27,400 initial responses.
Further childcare advertisements are planned for January. The campaign runs until March 2001.
About 460,000 people, most of them woman, are employed in the early-years sector.
The Government has pledged to provide a free nursery place for every four-year-old, and two-thirds of three-year-olds, by 2002. Labour has also promised childcare for a million UK children by 2003.