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How can we attract and retain the next generation of FE staff?

Luke O’Neill, Education Director, Morgan Hunt, a leading staffing supplier to the Further Education sector
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The reality in 2021 is that many colleges have been hit hard by the COVID19 pandemic, the impact of underfunding and recruitment challenges. Recruitment and retention of high-quality teachers is a critical issue across the further education (FE) sector. One key area that continues to struggle to attract new candidates is vocational courses, where both teachers and assessors remain a scarce commodity.

When it comes to recruiting FE lecturers for STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) and assessors for vocational subjects such as Plumbing, Electrical Installation, Bricklaying and Hairdressing, vacancies continue to rise. At Morgan Hunt recruitment we have seen an increase in jobs in these areas. In 2021 our vacancies within FE colleges are 32 per cent higher than they were in 2020.

The demand on FE

Vocational education is becoming increasingly more important in the UK as the demand for skills-based knowledge, technical skills and employability skills among employers increases. Many people are also seeing the real benefits of studying subjects such as technology and the modern career opportunities it can bring. The teaching of a core subject like maths has long been a growth area within FE since the 2011 Wolf Report recommended that all 16 to 19-year-old learners without a GCSE grade C in maths must continue to study them or miss out on funding.

Facing up to the realities of ‘skills shortage’ roles in FE

Although the UK government is recognising the issue by seeking suppliers to bring 4,000 teachers into the FE sector by 2025, as part of an expansion to a major recruitment scheme, it does little to solve today’s recruitment. Will The Department for Education’s tender, worth £3 million, for national delivery partners for the Taking Teaching Further programme, which was earmarked for an expansion in the Skills for Jobs white paper last month achieve anything? Only time will tell…

Whilst recognising that there are limited numbers of already qualified candidates in these shortage areas, we shouldn’t view these as ‘hard to fill’ roles that are going to be impossible to fill. We should view them as ‘skills shortage’ roles and think more creatively about how we can attract workers currently working within industry. Our task is to enlighten them about what teaching can offer and how valuable their hands-on knowledge and experience is.

How to find these skilled workers who might be the perfect fit in FE

 

As there is a real need for teaching and assessors to have industry expertise, there is an added difficulty in trying to find these candidates. Passive candidate attraction is a challenge at the best of times. Traditional FE job boards won’t hit the mark when you’re trying to attract skilled candidates that are currently working in their respective industries.

For a start, they may not have even considered teaching as a viable option for their next career move so these potential candidates won’t have even heard of specialist job boards. Critical thinking is needed. Try taking a new approach and identify where a hairdresser might look for their next role or what kind of job boards, publications and social networking sites bricklayers or plumbers might use and target those.

No experience in FE? No problem.

Make it clear in all communication that teaching experience or certain academic qualifications is not necessarily needed. Take time to provide details about on-the-job training and give information on possible funding to achieve teaching qualifications.

Courses such as bricklaying, engineering and plumbing need experienced, skilled workers to teach the next generation so the key is to focus on how valuable their years of hands-on experience is and start a conversation. 

Nowadays, we talk about ‘portfolio careers’, and changing jobs is no longer a red flag – rather it is an accepted norm in the wider employment market. This could be a good way to entice people away from industry and into the college sector.

Why do people want to work within FE?

One major issue in attracting candidates to FE is pay. FE salaries are likely to be lower than those in certain industries. Potential candidates need to be made aware of the benefits of moving out of their chosen sector and understand what they could gain by teaching.

Staff working within the FE sector are entitled to often overlooked benefits and excellent conditions. In job adverts aimed at those working outside of FE, it’s important to highlight details such as the benefits package and career development. If salaries don’t match industry levels, then translate the financial equivalent of the extensive range of benefits offered to staff at your FE College. this can make all the difference. For many people working towards teaching qualifications and participating in training provide additional value too.

Those working outside of the education sector are not aware of the generous annual leave entitlement that comes with FE. Although this is dependent on the type of role, most are entitled to around 38 days holiday per year, plus bank holidays. This is significantly higher than the basic 20-to-25-day standard allowance.

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One of the most attractive prospects about working as a FE teacher is the opportunity for flexible working that just isn’t available in most other career paths. Many workers are disillusioned with a 9 to 5 working day, limited holiday time and weekend working required by those working in hairdressing or mechanics. Although FE workloads are demanding, teachers and assessors can often choose between working full-time, part-time, evenings or even on a casual, hourly basis. This leaves significant scope for flexibility in working hours.

FE also provides a stable career and this is a real selling point in the post-pandemic world. Those tempted to move into FE need to know that the risk they are taking is a relatively safe one.

Now back to the topic of pay, while salaries in FE might not be the highest, at Morgan Hunt we have seen above-average pay offered to candidates in the areas of Electrical Installation, Bricklaying, Motor Vehicle Maintenance, Special Educational Needs and IT. In fact, we have witnessed an increase of 9% for starting salaries in 2021 compared to 2020. This significant increase is taking place as the competition to secure candidates increases between colleges.

The joys of teaching in FE

Those moving into FE will still get to practise the trade they originally trained in and are passionate about. A FE career is rewarding and those working in it are safe in the knowledge that they are influencing and shaping the next generation of industry experts.

The rewards of teaching are plenty and there is a real opportunity for creativity and innovation. FE learners may have struggled within “traditional” classroom learning and respond positively to more innovative and personalised approaches. The FE environment demands that teachers approach the teaching with enthusiasm and a positive attitude, as well as the ability to assist students to apply their skills to real-life scenarios.

Get creative with the recruitment processes

Now that face-to-face teaching and events have resumed, recruitment open days provide a chance for informal conversations that can build on the candidate’s initial interest.  Encouraging refer-a-friend recommendations from existing staff also opens another avenue for potential candidates, as does contacting alumni some years after they have left college.

Removing barriers for applicants

Once you have targeted your potential candidates and gained their interest, reassess your college’s recruitment process from the candidate perspective. Reduce as many barriers to entry as possible and focus on their valuable transferrable skills, rather than their lack of teaching experience.

It is essential to allow candidates to approach you in a number of ways, as a rigid, inflexible recruitment process will turn off potential candidates who are unfamiliar with the education sector. Lengthy application forms are commonplace in educational institution recruitment and many candidates from industry are used to applying for roles by submitting CVs. Application forms can quickly discourage candidates if it is not something they have previously been required to do. Could these forms be shortened for those applying from industry? Do they have to list every educational achievement in the same way in which a higher education lecturer would be expected to do? Is a personal statement needed when a cover letter could suffice? Is there an assessment centre option where soft skills and the candidate’s potential aptitude for teaching be easily assessed? Those new to education are unlikely to have attended a panel interview before, therefore what guidance can you provide?

Regular engagement with applicants throughout the process is key as well as step by step support. Safeguarding, compliance and training are all vital elements in the FE recruitment and onboarding process, but a clear explanation as to why these aspects have to take place and the time each stage of the process takes should be included. Often turnaround takes longer in education and you could lose candidates who are interviewing elsewhere.

Why is FE recruitment so important?

There is a global teacher shortage and, increasingly, talent is hard to find, particularly in specialist subjects. A sufficient number of highly skilled teachers within FE are needed to deliver work-relevant skills training. There is a wider economic importance of FE in raising skills levels and providing an opportunity for young people, particularly through apprenticeships and T Levels.

We can’t really talk about recruitment without mentioning retention. It is also often easier to retain staff than recruit new ones – after all, the whole recruitment process is costly, time-consuming and disruptive. But first, let’s communicate the benefits of working within the further education system which are not widely known to those outside of the education sector and remove some of the barriers for entry.

Further education can make a real difference – to individuals, to the local community and students’ lives. If we get recruitment right, retention will follow. 

Luke O’Neill, Education Director, Morgan Hunt, a leading staffing supplier to the Further Education sector

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