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Employers face ‘unprecedented challenge’

Part 5 in a Series

By SCOTT O’NEIL IWV Economic Dev. Corp.

Education Week published the results of a nationwide survey, conducted over the summer, which reported that three-quarters of public school districts across the country had insufficient candidates to fill their open positions. While recruitment and retention challenges may not be new to educators, local employers have acknowledged that difficulties have only intensified in the aftermath of the pandemic.

Although the 2022-23 school term has largely returned to “normal” since California’s declared of a state of emergency closing campuses in March 2020, the guidance and restrictions introduced in the ensuing years has left a mark on the educational workforce.

As with front-line healthcare workers, many teachers and support staff are simply burned out. Employers spoke anecdotally that many professionals — including new and those well into their careers — have opted for positions in other industries.

One employer noted that teaching cannot offer some of the flexibility that many in the workforce are now looking for. Given the needs and parameters of traditional education, it is not an option to offer remote work, alternative work schedules or other creative accommodations that were introduced during the COVID era.

That said, local employers are doing what they can to enhance the appeal of jobs in education. Historically, employers have been able to offer a one-time bonus to new hires in the most difficult-to-fill jobs (such as special education and math instruction). Employers are also offering flexible hours and remote work for positions that do not require adherence to traditional schedules.

Our education employers are unwavering in their attempt to find creative solutions to attract and retain educators.  For example, they are offering support for continuing education which can make advancement more achievable while also widening the pool of candidates for hard-to-fill positions.

We inquired with our public schools about whether local retired professionals could be a good resource for teachers. What we learned is that, although our teachers have a salary and benefits package that could be enticing for those with advanced degrees, the state of California does not make it easy for uncredentialed staff to teach long term. However, there is opportunity for educated professionals to teach temporarily on an emergency credential.

One way that both our K12 and higher educational institutions have tried to improve service and persevere through ongoing challenges is through strengthening partnerships with other organizations. Particularly in the case of Cerro Coso Community College, educators have modified the ways they deliver education and tailored programs in order to meet the diverse needs of its students and our local employers.

This can be particularly beneficial in industries such as healthcare, technology, and skilled trades — which provides students with lucrative career options but it also benefits employers by broadening the labor pool.

While it is encouraging to see our employers in education explore possibilities for workforce development, we would like to see this trend expanded further. Perhaps investments and partnerships from the broader community could also improve our available pool of employee candidates.

As with other articles highlighting defense, healthcare and other industry, jobs in the public education sector are also impacted by factors not in employers’ control — limited social opportunities, geographic isolation, lack of child care options, etc.

Some employers also suggested that interest in careers in public service (peace officers, teachers, etc.) is somewhat cyclical — when the economy is strong, there is a lot of space and potential for more lucrative careers in private enterprise and the entrepreneurial world. But once economic pressures ratchet down on some of these jobs, those in the more “stable” public sector become more appealing.

So depending on the direction our economy goes, the ability for education to draw quality candidates could improve or become even more challenging.