Addressing the Teacher Shortage with Tailored Benefits
Director of Education & Government Practice
It feels as though there has always been a teacher shortage. Some draw a connection all the way back to the implementation of Act 10 in Wisconsin in 2011, which resulted in a near elimination of collective bargaining rights and impacted compensation, retirement, health insurance and sick leave of virtually all public sector employees.
However, today the society-wide war for talent has placed a bright spotlight directly on the education sector and its problems now, with fewer applicants applying for open positions, and, even further up the pipeline, fewer college students choosing to major in education (2020 Wisconsin Policy Forum).
To put it bluntly, this is not an easily-solved problem. There are many factors impacting the war for talent in education, and there are just as many solutions that districts can implement to chip away at the problem. Let’s dive in.
What is driving the teacher shortage?
Though the teacher shortage has been an ongoing problem for years, there are key forces at play in today’s labor market that are further exacerbating the teacher shortage.
Mass retirements and fewer new teachers
2020 was the year that many educators decided to wrap up their careers. The Wisconsin Department of Employee Trust Funds reported that it saw a 14% increase in retirements of state employees in 2020. The Wisconsin State Journal reports that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on teachers’ decision making is occurring at the same time that generational trends are coming into play, i.e. more Baby Boomers are hitting retirement age.
In the same breath we can discuss how districts are having a hard time replacing these tenured educators. Dr. Jennifer Collins, director of UW-Platteville school of education told Spectrum News, “In the ‘90s, we had a recession, so fewer folks were having kids, so now we have fewer grads. We’ve got the smaller group of kids coming out of high school that are competing for lots of different jobs in lots of different majors – everybody wants from this smaller pool.”
And, the pool is indeed small. Spectrum News reports that enrollment in teacher preparation programs in Wisconsin dropped 33.4% between 2012 and 2018. Even fewer of these students accept jobs in the educational field when they graduate.
This smaller pool of potential applicants holds power in today’s labor market, and the education sector is not always able to ‘check all the boxes’. Total compensation is a major consideration for top talent entering the workforce, and it can be difficult for districts to stack up against the private sector when it comes to compensation.
Wisconsin in particular ranks 33rd in teacher compensation in the country, so districts need to look at more creative compensation and culture-forward opportunities in order to attract and retain the talent needed to quell the teacher shortage.
Lack of autonomy, voice, and recognition
Educators in particular value the opportunity to collaborate, brainstorm, and voice their opinions during times of key decision-making on the part of the district. Spectrum News reported that many teachers felt their voices lost power after the implementation of Act 10, and that they didn’t have input on decisions that affected them.
Burnout and inflexibility
COVID-19 didn’t do many industries any favors, but districts were hit particularly hard. Educators had to adapt quickly to new technology, new teaching strategies, and even personal challenges brought on by the pandemic. While there is growing appreciation for the education profession as a result of the pandemic, many educators are on the brink of burn out. That kind of mental, emotional, and physical strain could deter those who are just entering the workforce from choosing teaching as their desired profession.
Chipping away at the problem of a teacher shortage
With all of those factors facing the education sector, it can feel like an uphill battle to find the right staff members who will perform well, improve student achievement, and stay on long enough to create institutional knowledge. However, districts do have options.
Worksite benefits and social determinants of health
You know that educators desire different things from their jobs than employees do in other sectors, but are you addressing those needs in your district’s benefits? Not all benefits strategies are created equal. We’ve taken a customized approach to districts’ benefits by using an approach informed by social determinants of health and population health to determine which strategies are the best fit for a specific district.
One strategy that has worked for districts of all types is implementing worksite benefits. There are standard worksite benefits that are appealing to educators (accident, hospital indemnity, etc.), and there are more out-of-the-box options that can set your district apart in the eyes of potential educators. Some options include pet insurance, student loan repayment, and identity theft protection.
Wellness programs and incentives
Employees care about more than their total compensation package – they also care about the environment in which they’re working, and the level of care that is demonstrated by their employer. By working with your staff to develop a wellness program that fits their needs and addresses their concerns, you’re addressing two challenges with one solution. Educators will feel more engaged and involved, and will experience improvements and incentives related to their overall wellness in the process.
Benefit advisory committees
Educators thrive when given the opportunity to voice their opinions and participate in decision-making. Your benefits are not excluded from that. We’ve found great success with districts when they have created a benefit advisory committee made up of a diverse group of staff members. These committees assist districts in providing a vehicle for employee engagement and education related to employee benefits.
Educating on value of benefits and simplifying enrollment
Educating your staff on the value of your benefit package is just as important as choosing the right package. Staff need to be empowered to make their own elections using a simple enrollment process. Creating communication campaigns and bringing in the right technology and enrollment support can take the burden off of employees and make benefits less intimidating.
Culture adjustments and employee recognition
Last, but not least, districts can make adjustments to their culture and employee recognition programs in order to better attract and retain talent during the teacher shortage. Flexibility has become a buzzword in the corporate space, yet many districts have not explored opportunities to provide more autonomy to their employees. Choices like adding more flexibility to improve your staff’s work-life balance and publicly recognizing the great work happening in our schools and communities because of our educators can help your staff avoid the burnout that the sector as a whole is experiencing.
The teacher shortage has been a problem for years, but the current war for talent has made the issue even clearer for districts. While there are many factors in play including increased retirement due to generational and pandemic-related issues, there are steps that districts can take to chip away at the issue and attract and retain the talent they need to best support their students and communities.
Reach out to your M3 account executive to discuss how the war for talent is impacting your district and which benefits strategies could make sense to implement in order to affect a change in this trend.