The Dilemma of Recruitment

Andrew Wigford, Director of Teachers International Consultancy (TIC) and an ex-international school Headteacher, discussed the dilemma of teacher recruitment at a recent ECIS conference:

“Are you finding it increasingly difficult to recruit your teachers? Even after visiting all the recruitment fairs and spending a small fortune on advertising are you still struggling to fill your places? If so, you are not alone. The number of international schools is rising significantly every year and this increase is, of course, having a big impact on recruitment. The issue then is what can we do to make the recruitment process more effective, how can we keep good teachers for longer, and what can we do as an industry sector to increase the number of teachers entering into international education?

Head teachers all over the world are telling us, at TIC, the same thing: that recruitment of staff is becoming increasingly difficult. It’s evident through longer advertisement runs, low numbers of applicants and increasing costs of recruitment in terms of money and time. Some heads are attending as many as four or five recruitment fairs and still not filling all their vacancies. These problems need to be addressed or schools could find themselves heading towards a crisis in staffing. As an international schools community we need to work together to attract more teachers to our schools.

For several years TIC has hosted free seminars for teachers throughout the UK to promote the benefits of teaching overseas. At a Birmingham seminar, for example, over 50 teachers, all brand new to international education attended. And the underlying message from everyone was “we didn’t know these opportunities existed!” and: “we thought it was just for teaching English as a foreign language.” They’re amazed at the teaching jobs available to them. TIC has also been talking to undergraduate teachers in colleges and universities to build long-term awareness, and we’ve been in discussion with the teaching unions to publicise the professional development opportunities of international education to their members. But in terms of spreading the word, we’re still just scratching the surface.

The challenge for us all is to educate the teachers working in national systems in English-speaking countries such as the UK, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and the USA that international schools offer excellent professional and career development. As recruiters, we need to be more open-minded about whom we can employ; we shouldn’t automatically exclude less experienced teachers or those from English speaking developing countries. And we need to actively pursue training of these teachers in curricula like the IB and the IPC which are becoming increasingly popular in the international schools.

The problem at the moment though is that the pool of candidates isn’t growing at a fast enough rate and the same internationally-experienced teachers are being fought over by all the schools. It’s clear we need to look elsewhere for other sources of good teachers.

We’ve never been faced with the problem to this magnitude before. Many schools still expect to be able to attract high numbers of applicants simply due to their location or salary package. But national salaries have increased, especially in the UK, and many international schools have not kept pace. Instead, we need to find out what alternative ‘pull factors’ attract applicants to international schools.

Many candidates are now using the internet to research potential international schools and the schools that haven’t yet produced good quality websites will find this an increasing disadvantage for attracting the kinds of teachers they sorely need. Your website needs to have a ‘working with us’ section with a detailed explanation of the benefits of life in your school and in your country. You need to highlight the professional development opportunities that you’re offering and clearly demonstrate to teachers that working in your school will be good for their careers.

In addition, you need to have a carefully planned process of recruitment which is able to professionally and quickly respond to all applications. TIC’s latest research shows that candidates are easily put off by unprofessional treatment or lack of response.

Once you have successfully recruited, the issue then is to retain your good staff and so reduce the need to recruit large numbers each year. Some schools are annually experiencing a 20-25% change in staff which is incredibly high; although turnover of around 15% has to be expected due to the natural desire of the typical international educator to travel. At TIC we believe that the process of retention is intrinsically linked to recruitment. A teacher’s perception of your school starts at their first point of contact. Once the teacher is appointed a good orientation and induction programme is paramount. Many schools make the mistake of providing this only in the first few weeks after arrival. But teachers can be at their most vulnerable around three months after they arrive when the initial excitement of living and working in a new country begins to wane.

With the present explosion of international schools, candidates are actively seeking more one-on-one help to choose the right school, especially those who have gone through the recruitment fair experience or tried to go it alone and found it dissatisfactory. Many more are now turning to specialized recruitment agencies that know the schools first-hand and can give significant and experienced, unbiased advice on everything from the interview process to benefits and visas. At TIC we’re finding many teachers applying to be on our database long-term in a bid to find the best possible job, so we end up building a great rapport and really getting to know each individual candidate. The advantages of such good connections is profound, not only for the candidates themselves but for the schools too. Agency fees pail into insignificance when compared to the costs of ongoing newspaper advertising and frequent visits to recruitment fairs. And some schools, who are finding the processing of applications and interview arrangements an increasing burden, are actually handing the entire recruitment procedure over to TIC and other similar agencies.

Taking the recruitment process even further, at TIC we have been developing ways of expanded online activity and ‘live recruiting’ through e-portfolios and video conferencing. Not only is this helping create face-to-face opportunities efficiently and effectively (rather than the short burst of opportunity that a recruitment fair allows)  but it’s also making a big stance towards environmentally-friendly recruitment methods; cutting down on those dreaded carbon footprints.

It’s quite clear that traditional methods of international teacher recruitment such as advertising, recruitment fairs or the school’s own recruitment process are becoming less effective. Competition for good teachers is making recruitment a far more protracted, expensive and stressful process than it was just a few years ago. Schools need to create a long-term strategic plan for recruitment, they need to embrace on-line technology, and they need to consider the benefits of recruitment specialists who can open their doors to qualified candidates that they may otherwise never have the chance to find.”

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