A survey of the childcare industry has found that 41% of early years professionals are actively seeking a job in another sector.
SIPTU's annual Early Years Professionals' Survey was conducted by Dr Amy Greer Murphy.
"The survey shows that 94% of managers found it "difficult or "very difficult" to recruit staff in the past 12 months," she said.
"84% of managers identified pay as 'the biggest' or 'a significant" obstacle to recruiting staff."
Other key findings include that 90% of early years workers struggle to make ends meet, 66% regularly do unpaid work and just 10% have paid maternity leave from work.
The Government announced an investment of €716m in childcare in Budget 2022.
SIPTU said the focus now must be on agreeing rates of pay that will make it financially possible for early years professionals to stay in the sector.
The survey was conducted in the first week of September and had 3,255 respondents.
Speaking on RTÉ's Drivetime, Deirdre Bushell, Director of Operations for Grovelands Childcare Plus - a family business, with six early education centres across the Midlands - said recruitment of staff was an issue before Covid and it has become much worse.
She said pay is a major issue and it was very worrying that so many are leaving the sector to work in other areas.
She pointed to changes in regulation 8 years ago as part of the problem.
''Back in 2016 before regulations changed it was possible to have a percentage of unqualified staff in the sector but that's no longer possible,'' she said.
''We had really wonderful people working in the sector they might not have had a qualification but maybe they had brought up their own children, they had an interest in childcare. We could use those staff in the centres but when those regulations changed those people were pushed out of the workforce.''
She said it was highlighted at the time that this problem was going to continue and she said Covid has really shone a light on it.