Could the teacher shortage affect the future workforce? Here’s what business leaders think

As school districts struggle to stay fully staffed, business leaders are growing concerned about the implications for their future employees.

Kelly Education, which works with school districts across the country to provide staff — including substitute teachers, custodial staff and school nurses — has seen a spike in demand for its services since the pandemic began. To understand the potential impact of the teacher shortage on the future workforce, the company commissioned a national survey of more than 2,000 executives in July.

The survey, which included responses from leaders of large, medium and small companies, found that employers fear that a shortage of educators could lead to a generation of unprepared workers who lack skills such as problem-solving and creativity.

The accompanying report from Kelly Educationpublished this fall, argues that, among other factors, the teacher shortage is due to rising burnout rateslow wages and do not feel safe at school due to the threat of gun violence and potential assaults by students. Kelly Education also used monthly data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Job Vacancy and Turnover Survey to predict that without any intervention from policymakers, the teacher shortage could only get worse — and significantly — over the next three years. largely due to an increase in the number of jobs expected.

The BLS data includes everyone who works in public education, from teachers to administrators to bus drivers. The size and scope of the teacher shortage is impossible to determine precisely because there is no real-time national comprehensive data.

Education Week spoke with Nicola Soares, president of Kelly Education, about what she’s seen in schools this year and what she’s learned from surveying business leaders about their views on the teacher shortage. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What is Kelly Education seeing this year in terms of staffing shortages?

We still continue to see increased demand, especially with teacher vacancies – every grade level, every subject [and] disciplinary areas. In addition to this, the building principles. But what is interesting to me – is not only the academic side of the house, but all the positions that support the general day-to-day operation of the school. We see talent shortages everywhere.

Do you see more demand for substitutes in the short or long term?

That is all. As we move into the fall and winter months, we begin to see an increase in the number of COVID illnesses [now]. Additionally, we are starting to see an increase in long-term vacancies popping up as a result of performance appraisals starting this fall and perhaps [because of] full-time talent in a school district, considering “Do I want to stay in the profession?”

Educators and also school nurses are in high demand and it’s no surprise there. Those people, they’re serving the need for longer-term appointments, and a lot of that has been ebbing and flowing with student enrollment and whatever the needs have been over the last few years. Considering the pandemic, the demand for these services has also increased.

Who are you turning to to meet this increased demand? Have non-traditional candidates expressed an interest in working in schools?

We are seeing many healthcare professionals putting their hands up to be substitute teachers and trying out second careers – perhaps as a result of pandemic fatigue burnout, but still people who are very focused and want to care for people. Education is a nice transfer of that.

When we think about [registered nurses] or [licensed practical nurses] or [physician assistants] getting into the thick of it, they have a STEM degree like a bachelor’s degree. They may have a degree in nursing or a concentration in biology and chemistry. They provide great transfer of knowledge and skills to the STEM classroom.

Do you see school districts raising their pay rates for substitutes?

Yes, absolutely. We have seen pay levels that areas have increased by up to 50 percent in the last 24 months. We have had a huge number of our clients increase their salaries, not only for academic substitute teachers, but also for teaching assistants in special needs classrooms, school nurses, custodians. Districts have been forced to do so because of… competition for talent.

You recently polled business leaders to find out their views on the teacher shortage. What did you learn from them? What impressed you about the results?

Each year we embark on a range of research to support more insights into what I would characterize as a national crisis. We really wanted to hear from the business community what this means if we [bring] less qualified teachers in the classroom? [The results were] quite deep.

We surveyed over 2,000 executive leaders – so [chief executive officers, chief financial officers, chief human resources officers], middle managers—in the US, which was great to see different perspectives and perspectives. But the thing that was so interesting to me was that they were pretty cohesive as a stakeholder in terms of their thoughts on what the impact would be.

You have 91 percent of these business leaders actually saying that if we don’t have qualified teachers in the classrooms really three to five years from now, they’re going to have businesses and jobs that won’t be supported by a qualified workforce. There was concern about students leaving education without the soft skills they were looking for – cognitive reasoning, conflict resolution skills, civic mindedness.

Also interesting were some of the things they felt needed to be put in place to reverse the trend. An example of this was supporting and advocating more for public policy that could foster a more diverse talent pool in teacher preparation.

They all agreed that we need to increase compensation and benefits and improve working and training conditions. [They] also advocated voting for those political candidates who include addressing the teacher shortage in their programs and platforms. Things like advocating for more voice to really promote respect for teachers – just like we do with our veterans, our frontline healthcare workers.

There was also advocacy around volunteering in school districts and advocacy—which I found interesting—to subsidize teacher training so that people don’t leave school with such massive college debt.

When I hear from the business community, “If we don’t do something about this, there are huge concerns that we don’t have the workforce to sustain the business” – that’s scary. It all starts with quality education, quality teachers in the classroom – the breakdown of innovation and financial literacy and civic thinking is reflected in all of this.

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