Getting Ahead: Strategies for Talent Acquisition in Education


As this academic year kicked off, over 500 children in Cuyahoga County found themselves at home instead of in the classroom. A situation reminiscent of a pandemic era that parents had hoped they'd never have to face again.

Step Forward, the organization responsible for overseeing the Head Start program in the county, faced severe workforce shortages, totalling over 90 staff members. This crisis led to 23 classrooms being unable to open - a poignant illustration of the broader challenges facing an education system in turmoil.

According to a recent report from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 42% of all school principals expressed heightened concern about educators leaving the profession in the previous academic year. These challenges stem from low salaries, tough working conditions where burnout is high, increased retirement rates, and a general waning of interest in teaching, resulting in a reduced flow of new teachers coming into the field.

Sadly, these shortages often align with a district's socioeconomic status, with high-poverty and high-minority areas disproportionately impacted by these problems, making it even more challenging to recruit staff.

Teaching staff are experiencing a substantial administrative burden, including grading, lesson planning, attendance tracking, data reporting, and communication with parents. Most settings lack sufficient administrative support to help them focus on what they love: providing high-quality teaching to their students.

The Talent Challenge

This gloomy backdrop presents many hiring challenges for education settings. The sheer volume of roles they must recruit for is one of the biggest. Like sweeping up leaves in the fall, it never ends. Most education providers have limited resources for recruiting, so the constant demand for staff puts enormous pressure on an HR function, alongside the wider HR remit they already contend with.

There is high attrition in the sector, driven by low teacher salaries, lack of professional development opportunities and challenging working conditions as class sizes continue to rise due to staff shortages. We heard of one example where teachers now have 36 students in a class of one teacher, compared to 22 students to two teachers they had previously.

There is a silver lining to this issue of frequent job changes, as it does result in there being a large pool of candidates actively seeking teaching positions. Of course, simply having a wider pool doesn't necessarily translate to a wealth of highly skilled and effective educators. This is where attracting and retaining the best talent available becomes essential.

Kids in a classroom

Your Competitive Edge

To secure access to top talent, it's important to distinguish yourself and maintain a competitive advantage over other education providers. If we could wave a magic wand, we'd naturally be looking to address the underlying issues contributing to attrition, including offering competitive salaries and providing professional development opportunities. However, we recognize that these steps aren't always possible with the pressure on finances.

One method to ensure a steady flow of talent could be to implement a grow-your-own strategy. This succession planning approach involves cultivating junior staff members through on-the-job training programs. By nurturing their professional development and offering educational support, this initiative expands the pool of skilled professionals and promotes career progression. Consequently, this both boosts morale and enhances the appeal of the workplace, making it attractive to existing and prospective staff members.

Establishing partnerships with colleges, universities, and local teacher preparation programs offers the opportunity to introduce your programs to their students early on and can help shape the relevant education pathways. This will help to fill the top of the talent pipeline funnel. A strong collaborative relationship between the college and the schools is crucial, ensuring that students and teachers benefit from a high-quality experience that will motivate them to pursue their education careers.

To enhance your recruitment strategies, draw inspiration from the corporate sector's approach to promoting careers and distinguish your setting as a great place to work. While certain aspects, like pay and benefits, may be difficult to control, consider the following areas to present your school in the most favourable light.

Embracing the wide range of digital channels that are available to support your talent acquisition is paramount for staying competitive and allowing you to reach a diverse talent pool. These channels not only enhance your efficiency but also create a positive experience for both employers and candidates. Look to leverage the power of job boards, particularly those catering to the education sector, alongside more generic platforms, including those focussed on contract workers if appropriate. Optimize your social media presence by using all channels available to you, not just for posting job adverts, but for sharing engaging content such as information, photos, and videos that highlight the positive aspects of your workplace. Tailor your approach to each platform, understanding its audience and its strengths, and recognizing which is best for sharing multi-media content or straightforward job postings. Explore other digital platforms such as online forums, community spaces and virtual job fairs that may allow you to tap into new audiences. Here you may make valuable connections, including candidates and partner organisations that can help increase the reach and effectiveness of your TA efforts.

Consider the portrayal of your online brand carefully as in a competitive market where candidates are scarce, a positive online brand is a powerful representation of you. Having a positive employer brand can significantly impact candidates' perceptions, making your workplace more attractive and encouraging the best talent to consider opportunities with you. A strong online brand not only attracts candidates but also contributes to employee retention. Existing employees are likely to feel a sense of pride and satisfaction working for a setting with a positive and well-portrayed online presence and are more likely to make word-of-mouth referrals.

Optimize your career page and social media channels and ensure they are user-friendly and visually appealing, and provide comprehensive information about your culture, values, benefits, teaching facilities and available opportunities. Ensure job descriptions convey the unique aspects of your workplace and make it easy for visitors to navigate and apply for positions. Where possible include testimonials and real experiences from existing teaching staff to offer an authentic insight into your culture. Recognize that the digital age has led to candidates often expecting education providers to have a strong online presence. Meeting these expectations shows you are modern, transparent, and aligned with current trends.

Taking these steps to focus on creating a strong online brand as part of your digital talent acquisition strategy will not only help attract top talent but also contribute to building a positive employer brand, differentiating your organization, and influencing overall recruitment success.

In summary, the statistics and the reality regarding the shortage of teachers undeniably are a cause for concern in the education sector. Nonetheless, within these challenges are opportunities for innovation in the talent acquisition process that can help you attract candidates seeking not just a job but a fulfilling and supportive career.