The recent announcement to raise the FE teacher training bursary level is headline-worthy, but it won’t dent the recruitment and retention problems faced by the sector. Providers should aim to solve their own problems rather than wait for more funding from DfE.
Bursaries are finite in number and locked to subject areas. They’re also laced with qualifying criteria. With the FE sector vacancy rate more than double pre-pandemic levels, the bursary improvement is welcome but it will have a negligible impact.
The FE sector has the evergreen challenge of hiring experienced people from industry. Salaries in FE rarely outpace what is obtainable in industry occupations. The knee-jerk response from lobbyists is to appeal for more funding so that providers can pay higher salaries.
This isn’t achievable across all industries and provision. The toughest vacancies to fill in FE are the same as those in industry; areas of economic demand where there is a lack of experienced candidates.
For example, the median salary for a software developer in the UK is £65,000. According to our platform, however, the average salary for a software development coach or lecturer is £38,039. The average salary for a bricklayer is £53,528, but our website shows the average for a bricklaying lecturer £30,883. The list goes on.
The struggles do not end there; in comparative sectors FE is the poor relation. Secondary teachers earn more than FE lecturers. Those working in learning and development earn 33 per cent more than their FE counterparts in FE. Then, there is intra-sector competition between ITPs, employer providers, colleges and universities.
Now for the good news: The FE sector has bags to offer professionals moving from industry. It just requires a thoughtful and creative approach to unlock this value.
Post-pandemic, there is a huge shift in what job-seekers prioritise. Much of the workforce is unwilling to compromise on work/life balance as they did before.
With this in mind, increasing the flexibility of working conditions is very attractive. Worth considering are remote or hybrid working, 4-day work weeks and flexi hours. Extended holidays, buy-back schemes and sabbaticals are common in the private sector.
Colleges could utilise existing infrastructure to mitigate living costs by supporting employees with subsidies for things like food or childcare.
Providers could leverage their proximity to industry to forge recruitment partnerships. I loved the recent example in the LEC Report of South Burton & Derbyshire college’s recruitment partnership. Providers could find further inspiration on what is important to job seekers by examining what top employers use to enhance their employer value propositions (EVP).
Social conscientiousness is at an all-time high. Working in FE is a fantastic way to contribute to ‘something bigger’, but I’m often shocked to see how few providers talk about this in their recruitment literature. Few providers invest in EVP enhancers like B-Corp status, despite qualifying.
Finally, lightening the load on lecturers would benefit the sector too. Agile approaches and more efficient organisational structures would make the job more enjoyable. Enabling educators to focus on imparting their knowledge rather than weighing them down in bureaucracy is key to avoiding attrition.
Ideas like these are rarely cost-neutral, so where does the investment needed come from? One option is to stop relying on staffing agencies when direct sourcing is a viable alternative. It’s easier than ever before with advancements in recruitment technology.
There are stark comparisons to draw with the NHS with regards to over-reliance on contract staffing agencies. Like the NHS, diverting agency spending would allow reinvestment into HR resources. We could also improve compensation packages (salary levels or benefits) in problem areas.
This won’t happen overnight and will need an introspective approach. There has to be an appetite to change the status quo rather than waiting for more funding, or outsourcing recruitment by default.
Senior leaders should invest more in their HR and talent acquisition strategy. In doing so, they’d find that their recruitment challenges would dissipate. Over time, both FE job-seeker sentiment and the level of new entrants to the sector would improve.