Is workforce planning being taken seriously enough by schools?
According to Clare Murphy, director of people and strategy at St Michael’s Grammar, such planning is lacking in organisations around the country – and schools are no exception.
Murphy, who comes from a background in HR outside of education, told The Educator that many schools are working with a 19th century model that doesn’t fit with what people want from their workplace in terms of flexibility.
“For the education sector to make teaching an attractive profession, it needs to look at how it structures things like pay and working hours that so people want to go into teaching,” she said.
“One of the key drivers of the future workforce is flexibility, but we’re up against an inflexible system that is not going to bring people into the profession.”
However, Murphy added that many organisations – particularly schools – don’t have the HR capacity to spend time working on this issue.
“It’s not that they don’t see value in it, but with competing demands, many organisations might only have one HR person, so by the time they’ve done all of those day-to-day duties, there’s simply no time to do it,” she said.
She added that forward-planning is important to avoid potential staffing issues down the line.
“For example, waiting until a teacher leaves, then advertising and hoping you get the right person rather than analysing the demographics of the school and predicting where the future needs and skills shortages will be,” she said.
“With increasing skills shortages in teaching – particularly and science and maths subjects – schools can’t simply rely on putting an ad out and hoping they’ll find the right person.”
Looking at the big picture
St Michael’s now has a comprehensive workforce planning strategy which takes its staff demographics into account and uses them to predict their future needs and likely requests.
“When I first started at St Michael’s, I pulled out the data on the school’s staff, looked at what their age and gender was and then predicted what the workforce would look like up until 2020,” she said.
“We were then able to make a number of assumptions, such as staff who are in the age-bracket of 55-60 who will likely be looking to transition to retirement and request part-time options.”
Murphy said that she also looked at the point at which some staff were likely to start having children and how many would be off on parental leave at any particular time.
“By doing this, we were able to start looking at how many of these staff would potentially be requesting parental leave and flexible work options,” she explained.
However, one of the most significant things we found was that by 2020, all of those assumptions affected nearly three-quarters of our staff.”
While all school staff hold important roles in their own right, Murphy said it is crucial for principals to consider the roles where there are currently skills shortages.
“Looking more carefully at these areas allows principals to start thinking about this much earlier rather than waiting for that person to put their application in and being left with a void in a critical area,” she said.
Murphy said there is the perception that workforce planning is just another cost and responsibility on the to-do list of busy professionals. However, she warned that inaction can spell disaster.
“When people are your biggest cost, why wouldn’t you invest in them? A school’s biggest cost is its staff, but many principals tend to manage this quite reactively,” she said.
“There are much bigger picture issues that are going to affect schools if care is not taken in this area, because it’s not just the head of the school whose role is critical.”