The effects of a 35% funding cut to further education since 2009 have been well documented. It has taken its toll on the sector’s workforce as results of a survey by FEjobs of 750 FE professionals confirms; alarmingly 64% expect to leave the sector in the next five years.
However, our findings also offered a real sense of hope, with two thirds of FE professionals saying they would recommend working in further education. The single biggest motivator for our respondents was the tangible impact they feel they make to learners who have previously struggled but find their feet, and their potential, in further education. In order to harness this sentiment, here is my take on practical, positive changes to recruitment and retention practices that ensure FE professionals want to join and remain in the sector.
A critical way to improve retention is to ensure colleges hire the right team members in the first instance. By updating recruitment processes to a more candidate-centric approach, colleges can take significant strides in improving the success of their recruitment.
Lengthy recruitment processes don’t yield quality candidates
A poor or slow recruitment process leads to a poor workforce. FEjobs found that 80% of FE professionals want to apply for jobs online, not through lengthy paper forms. Colleges should ensure that they have short, concise, easy to navigate online application forms. Put simply, reducing the time it takes to apply will increase the flow of relevant applications. Similarly, if the time between advert and offer is long, the best applicants are likely to be snapped up by other colleges, resulting in a consistently lower quality workforce and eventually, high attrition rates.
Recruit proactively, not reactively
A key step college leaders can take in their recruitment is to recruit throughout the year. Taking a more proactive approach will reduce the impact – in time and cost – of urgent, ad-hoc vacancy spikes in the year. Or, for example, the introduction of the new GCSE grading structure highlights for colleges that without prioritising workforce planning, there remains a significant lack of clarity on how many students would need a lecturer. A year-round recruitment strategy will put colleges back in control of the flow of candidates, allowing them to cultivate a talent pool of interested lecturers to draw from when vacancies arise.
On the issue of retention, we need to understand why FE professionals are leaving the sector. Perhaps not surprisingly, the survey showed the top four reasons are lack of progression (32.2%), excessive workload (33.1%), low morale (33.5%), and pay (35.1%).
So, what practical steps can college leaders take in addressing and minimising these four key issues, in a climate of reduced funding?
Mirror higher education’s progression processes
When speaking with college lecturers, we hear comparisons to career paths of higher education lecturers. Therefore, college leaders can mirror higher education’s progression processes such as formal CPD and defined time out for self-improvement and training. Although there is awareness about formal CPD for FE staff, it seems that on the ground, action is still lacking. As much as 60 per cent of further education lecturers spend no time on formal training. By offering and delivering formal CPD, college leaders can show lecturers that their development is valued within the organisation whilst bringing out the best in their existing staff.
Comprehensive induction leads to staff satisfaction
By improving the process for inducting staff, colleges can better prepare new lecturers from the outset, so they are better informed about what to expect within their college and better empowered to manage their workload. It’s up to leadership and college HR professionals to facilitate the candid dialogues in which employee sentiment and wellbeing can be truly understood. This in turn contributes to a long-term strategy to retain this valuable teaching talent within the college and therefore, within the sector.
FEjobs’s report A new era in the approach to recruiting for further education can be read in full here
Paul Howells is founder and CEO of FEjobs, part of the Eteach Group. A former teacher himself, Paul has over 20 years experience working with schools and colleges on their recruitment.