British-trained nannies have a good reputation and can command decent salaries

Job prospects for nannies have never been better. It's no longer just the twinset-and-pearls types living in the country and driving a Range Rover who employ them, says Oliver Black, director of childcare agency Tinies. "More working parents are choosing to have their children cared for in their own homes because of the flexibility it offers."

Demand means pay is increasing, too, with annual salaries for qualified and experienced daily nannies in central London now averaging more than £30,000. And, largely thanks to Mary Poppins, and more recently television "Supernanny" Jo Frost, British trained nannies have a good reputation around the world, so there are plenty of opportunities for travel.

But it's not so much the perks as the chance to nurture the next generation that attracts many people to the job. "Children are so much fun to be around," says Georgina Wood, who has worked as a nanny for more than 10 years.

"I love watching them grow and seeing how they change and develop." It's not just about getting on with the children, though. Building a trusting relationship with the parents is equally important. "Communication is the key thing. You need to be open, and discuss any issues that come up. With experience, you get a feel for the kind of family you are most comfortable with," she says.

Hours can be long and, especially with live-in jobs, the line between work and free time can become blurred. Therefore, it's best to have a detailed contract agreed so you know where you stand.

It's also important to remember that the children you are looking after are not your own, so you have to go along with how the parents want them raised. That may mean not turning into "Supernanny" when the children are naughty – but also probably not being super-permissive either. There is a balance to be struck.

The hardest part of the job can be moving on when children reach school age. This can be upsetting because you've spent so much time with them. It depends how it's handled, says Wood. Children need to understand that it's not their fault their relationship with their nanny is coming to an end.

The best way to become a nanny is to take a Diploma in Childcare and Education, although a formal qualification isn't strictly necessary and experience and personality count for a lot. Parents want proactive people who are prepared to get out and about with the children and generate their own ideas for activities. Other skills such as a foreign language or the ability to play a musical instrument can also be useful.

Nannies fresh out of college will need a couple of years' experience in a paid childcare job in a nursery or working alongside a parent in the home before they would be considered for a position where they are in sole charge of a child. For those who fancy getting a bit of sunshine at the same time, Black recommends a stint as a resort nanny with a holiday company. "It's an excellent way of developing your skills as you get to work in a team and come into contact with a lot of different families," he says.

Black feels more men should be encouraged into the profession. "Mannies" have been in vogue recently with celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow employing one, and a Tinies survey found that the majority of parents would consider a male nanny. "People have been asking for them but only 2 or 3 per cent of the nannies on our database are male," he says. "There's not enough of them."

And what about long-term job prospects? Isn't it a bit tricky when you have your own children? It can be, says Wood, but there are opportunities to work part-time, and some families will welcome a nanny with the extra dimension that being a parent brings. "I have a nanny friend who takes her own child to work with her," she says.

Careful planning

The Diploma in Childcare and Education is a two-year full-time course offered at centres such as FE colleges. It is also possible to study for it part-time. Several good GCSEs are usually needed for entry. See the Council for Awards in Children's Care and Education (www.cache.org.uk)

Cache offers a wide range of courses that will enable you to specialise in areas such as care of newborns or children with disabilities. Aspiring nannies should hold a Certificate in Paediatric First Aid (see www.firstaidqualifications. com). A driving licence also comes in useful.

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