Mind the staff shortage gap

As the country gears up for one of the closest general elections in living memory, education policy is a key battleground upon which votes will be won and lost. Issues such as teacher shortages, an increasing disconnection between what students are taught and existing job roles, and a lack of general awareness about the changing nature of work, continue to blight the system and will be a focus for campaigners over the coming months.

Teacher Shortages
Over the next decade the UK will need more than 40,000 teachers to respond to pupil increases of 800,000. Training colleges are finding it increasingly difficult to fill their quotas, and this problem is further compounded by pressures placed on new teachers. In a recent survey, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) found that 73 per cent of trainee and newly qualified teachers (NQTs) had thought about leaving the profession, citing increased workloads.
The education sector has to do more to attract and retain its workforce, and recruitment agencies play a big part in this. There will always be a demand for supply teachers to cover absences, sick leave, and to meet other short and medium-term demands. Schools benefit from being able to tap into this flexible workforce, and the option to work in this way is attractive to many teachers.
We know for instance that one of the key reasons teachers choose to work as a supply teacher is because doing so gives them more flexibility to balance other responsibilities and interests. Short-term contracts are an established part of the education labour market, and the benefits that come with this way of working should be promoted as an incentive for qualified and experienced teachers to stay within the profession rather than walking away.     

Mismatching – Skills Shortages
The UK is suffering from a talent crisis, with a particular shortage in skills relating to science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) has documented these shortages and the problem is getting worse. In August 2014, we saw demand for staff grow at the fastest rate for 16 years, but a lack of skilled people who can fill roles in a wide variety of sectors is holding UK businesses back from reaching their full potential.  
During the recession, employers took a more conservative approach to their business operations, and scaled back their hiring activity. Now, with the country emerging confidently from this period of stagnated growth, UK businesses are keen to expand. Our data shows that 93 per cent of employers are operating with little or no spare capacity, and have serious concerns about the availability of suitably skilled candidates.
What does this mean for schools? Young people seeking work need to know that their education, whether it ends at secondary level or continues onwards, has provided them with the right tools and knowledge to enable them to make informed decisions about their careers.
The recruitment industry is offering a lot to schools to enable the realisation of this goal. Our members support the careers guidance function in schools by providing workshops on work preparedness and CV writing, they participate in school fairs and provide schools with labour market data to identify local, regional and national skill needs. Under the REC’s Youth Employment Charter, we support agencies seeking to engage with schools in this way. However, much more needs to be done. Indeed, schools should be supported by local authorities and central government departments to incentivise employment outcomes, so that the motivation exists to seek out and utilise the experience of local recruiters.
The REC’s latest JobsOutlook report suggests that 82 per cent of employers will seek to add to their permanent headcount in the next three months and 75 per cent intend to do so in the next year. It is beholden on schools and employers to ensure that they are equipping young people with the relevant skills to take advantage of these opportunities, and a big part of this is about linking up with employers to expose young people to the world of work. Recruiters can help bridge this gap.

Careers Advice
Major improvements are needed to the careers advice on offer to young people so that it is reflective of the realities of work. Young people will naturally have limited exposure to potential career pathways and the requirements needed, but schools provide the ideal mechanism for the development of these core work competencies. Social mobility is better facilitated when early education includes these elements, enabling young people to take ownership of their working life and capitalise on every opportunity which comes their way.  
In our political manifesto for jobs, published in December, we laid out our calls for reform in this area.

We believe that modern careers advice needs to go further than just focussing on entry to higher levels of education and training, and young people need to be told about the changing nature of work, from flexible work to freelancing and self-employment. It must recognise modern career journeys, where individual’s progress through 20 or more jobs in their lifetime, and it must focus on the need to continually train and upskill in order to advance.
Schools, employers and recruiters all have a part to play in improving the kind of careers advice available, and should work in collaboration to help improve the employment prospects of our nation’s youth. Schools will need government support to realise this goal and our manifesto for jobs calls for such support.

REC as champions of good practice
As schools rely on supply agencies to a greater extent, and as they consider utilising recruiters’ expertise, we are keen to reassure schools that our members are committed to the REC code of professional practice. This is a pledge to conduct businesses ethically, to the highest standards and to promote best practice within the recruitment industry.  
Alongside the code, members must undertake a compliance test every two years. At the beginning of 2015 we expelled 83 members, and we refused membership to 110 other agencies for failing to pass this test, showing how serious we are about the high standards expected of our members.
Within the education sector, the REC’s legacy on compliance is well established. Having run the Department for Education’s Quality Mark for a decade until its closure in 2013, the REC subsequently developed a compliance tool especially for the education sector called REC Audited Education. The audit goes far beyond simple compliance, requiring agencies to demonstrate that they operate best practice in areas such as customer service, staff development, diversity and client management. Mindful of the complex regulatory environment in which schools now find themselves, the REC published Putting Pupils First last year to provide guidance to schools when utilising recruitment agencies.

Further information

Supplier Focus


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