From education to employment

Educators deserve not only better pay, but also an equal employee experience

A summer of discontent, with rail strikes and the cost-of-living crisis laying bare the pressure on public sector employees, Autumn is set to be as turbulent.

With inflation continuing to rise, teachers and lecturers are facing below-inflation pay rises that do not match increased day-to-day pressure and expenditure. Amid this crisis, frontline educators, including teachers and lecturers, are rightly demanding pay increases to combat inflation while also seeking more flexible working options as they look for balancing work-life demands such as their own childcare.

There is already a recruitment crisis in education, as reported by The Guardian, ‘trainee recruitment is down by 25,000 compared with last year and experienced teachers are leaving the profession at the fastest rate for more than a decade.’ 1 in 8 college staff leave within a year. As UCU reports, ‘the pay gap between college and school teachers currently stands at £9,000 as staff working in further education have suffered real terms pay cuts of over 30% in the past decade.’ It is not surprising that many more are leaving this vital profession to pursue better pay, conditions and employee experiences.

The balance of power has shifted. Increasingly, teachers and lecturers are confident that they can get another job, in another industry but any such trend is disastrous. Drawing on the power of unions, there is greater power to negotiate for more favourable working conditions and other benefits such as higher pay, flexible scheduling and other workplace benefits that private sector workers are now typically afforded.

There is no single issue on the table. Instead, a combination of improved pay, conditions, experiences and benefits will be increasingly critical to attract and retain educators. At the same time, we cannot ignore that the nature of this work often prevents certain flexibilities from being offered. However, that does not mean education employers cannot achieve impactful workplace evolution across the workforce.

Yes, flexibility is possible

Throughout the well-publicised rail strikes, a key theme has been employees steamrolled into inflexible working schedules, a lack of training, and feeling unheard and disregarded. Education employers should take note of the need to explore flexible work environments and schedules that allow educators a higher degree of autonomy with their time. This might include flexible work arrangements such as compressed work weeks (40 hours over four days instead of five) or adjusting start or end times based on personal needs and circumstances. It can also include allowing teachers to work from home to complete planning, prep and assessment tasks or keeping online parents’ evenings an option, as happened throughout the pandemic.

The government has been clear about the benefits of flexible working for teachers; retaining experienced staff, recruiting from a broader pool, promoting wellbeing and improving work-life balance.

It may also be time to consider holistic benefits that make a real difference. For example, pay-on-demand gives educators access to wages when needed.

Of course, delivering these elevated employee experiences for a dispersed, deskless workforce such as teaching staff can be challenging. This is where intelligent workplace management technology can provide educators with the streamlined, personalised digital processes that mirror the technology-enabled employee experiences now enjoyed across private sector roles.

For example, modern workforce management technologies that utilise sophisticated AI and machine learning, alongside user-friendly design, can reinforce better working practices for all staff, whether frontline in the classroom, or supporting staff.

As highlighted by the Shared Headship Network, “We want to make teaching and leading schools a sustainable, long-term career, so that the best people stay in teaching and school leadership – and do not have to choose between important personal and professional commitments. In addition, wellbeing initiatives need to address things that genuinely impact work-life balance. Day-to-day flexibility is key to this (for example, accommodating caring commitments). Also, schools need to be smart about the use of technology to enable certain aspects of school life to be more flexible.”

Communication, across the board

Even in the largest, most heavily unionised organisations, the adage ‘people leave managers, not companies’ is very true. For admin issues, managers often struggle with the technology that can automate complexity while delivering employee-focused outcomes.

Effective communication ensures it’s not just left to the first-line manager to create the culture and where issues do arise, in the moment ‘pulse surveys’ can pick up on that dissatisfaction very quickly. Achieving consistent two-way communication through technology can give the individual employee a voice while empowering employers with the insight they need to address trends affecting larger groups.

Ensuring that managers and employees are connected to and engaged with organisational values is vital. Enabling employees to provide feedback and allowing managers to act on those ideas is another crucial factor in showing workers that they are supported and heard.               

A digital panacea?

Of course, no one is arguing that technology alone can solve the very real concerns of those choosing to strike. However, digital provision and innovation is one area which highlights the inequity between deskless and desked workers and between those in the private and public sectors.

During the pandemic, educational institutions moved rapidly to introduce technology for remote learning. After heralding educators as heroes during the pandemic, now is the time to recognise them for their vital contribution and to level the playing field.

In short, if we want to close the talent gap and recruit and retain essential educators we need to treat them better and invest in their workplace experiences. This means using all we have at our disposal – technology included – to design pay, reward, benefit, and experience packages that reflect the crucial role their talent plays in society.

By Dr Angelina Sun, Workforce Management Solutions Director at WorkForce Software

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