How The Great Resignation Is Changing Education

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By Nancy Varghese, Global Director of Higher Education & Research, SAP

According to UNESCO, approximately 1.5 billion students worldwide shifted to virtual learning at the pandemic’s peak. Educators became essential workers, required to adapt to the continually evolving environment, upskilling, and reskilling. Today, most schools have reopened. But how has this affected the workforce of teachers, faculty, and administrators?

They had an epiphany, a moment of reflection, according to Dr. Anthony Klotz from the University of Texas A&M who coined the term “The Great Resignation.” Make no mistake, this moment of reflection is real. National Education Association (NEA) reported that approximately 55% of educators are more likely to voluntarily resign to pursue other careers or retire early. Additionally, HigherEdJobs reported an increase of 16.5 percent in job openings for the education sector.

Stress and Burnout Are Major Factors

In many cases, educators have experienced stress due to an unsustainable workload. Ultimately, this resulted in high levels of burnout. According to the NEA, stress has been one of the primary issues leading to voluntary resignation.

Without question, the pandemic has exacerbated the labor shortage and increased vacancies in many educational institutions. And the impact of these vacancies will affect the next generation of workers in industries well-beyond the education sector.

For instance, more than 80,000 qualified applicants were turned away from U.S. nursing programs in 2020, according to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. The issue was not the number of potential students applying. Instead, the number of nursing professors and experienced practitioners available to oversee students’ education and practical clinical training.

A Culture of Flexibility Helps Retain Employees

Adopting a new framework to attract the best talent and retrain its existing workforce is critical to addressing the challenge, which requires adaptability and a change in mindset.

While compensation may be a significant factor for employees, creating a culture of flexibility may pay off in dividends. The pandemic has taught us to survive in virtual environments allowing employees the flexibility to work from home or the office. But this also applies to the time employee’s work.

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For instance, Boston University conducted an extensive analysis of their workforce to support adapting a flexible work policy. As a result, certain staff members were allowed to work remotely two days a week.

Another creative approach to flexible work policies is job sharing. When two employees share the responsibilities for one position, they are sharing a job. The Department of Education in the United Kingdom has successfully implemented and promoted job-sharing positions since 2019, before the pandemic. The case study concluded that job sharing encouraged a better work-life balance and more creativity for teachers.

Modernizing Recruitment

With the need to attract applicants virtually, HR systems are now considered a strategic component of the recruitment process. It’s no longer just a system of record to maintain employee information. In some cases, the applicant portal is the first experience a future employee has. Which requires a user experience that is intuitive and easy to navigate.

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Take, for example, the University of Toronto, the largest university in Canada. Recognized as one of Canada’s top employers for 2022, the institution implemented a new platform for recruitment. The technology enabled a smooth user experience throughout the application lifecycle. Plus, it enhanced process automation so faculty and staff can dedicate more time to critical processes that foster a student-centric culture.

Monitoring Employee Well-Being and Taking Action

The COVID-19 pandemic was a great awakening for educational institutions in many ways. First, it magnified the need to ensure a safe and healthy workplace. While leaders have relied heavily on intuition, a best practice approach is to identify the root cause of employees’ stress.

By continuously gathering employees’ feedback, organizations can take action immediately before a situation becomes critical. Additionally, getting a continual pulse of employees can help organizations pivot to increase employee engagement and improve productivity, leading to a positive experience for students.

With Qualtrics EmployeeXM, Cornell University keeps a constant dialogue with their employees through regular pulses and surveys to dig deep into how they are creating a climate of inclusion.

Channeling The Tide of a Dynamic Work Environment

Educational institutions can mitigate workforce challenges with a holistic approach by prioritizing communication across all levels of the organization and embracing challenges with a growth mindset. Those institutions that adapt to new ways of working will evolve into tomorrow’s trailblazers. Leading with innovative approaches to address labor shortages and attrition while providing the best-quality education to all students.

Eager to learn more? Listen to the Industry Insights by SAP Podcast: The Great Resignation in Higher Education