Time and again we hear schools highlight the scale of the problem. A recent COBIS report (here) showed that 94% of heads find recruitment of staff challenging.
Demand for international schools, and for teachers continues to grow. This supply:demand imbalance means that schools need to work hard to reinforce their benefits for teachers.
1. Attract the best staff
To ensure you can reach and attract the right staff for you school (competing against 10,000 other international schools globally), you should regularly review your salary, benefits, and support packages for new staff.
Leverage technology to help find and filter the best candidates. Schools no longer have time to review hundreds of paper CVs to find the perfect teacher. For example, Searchality.com helps schools to define exactly their recruitment needs. A shortlist (already based on candidate interest and fit) is shared. Busy HR and recruitment teams can then spend time focussing on understanding the best candidates, not trying simply to find them!
No surprises. On many occasions schools or candidates need to end the recruitment process because of unexpected surprises. Be upfront with your packages, accommodation, benefits, travel, insurance and tax policies for teachers. Understand local regulations that may limit recruitment based on years of teaching experience, age of applicant, or degree status. (Searchality prevents these nasty surprises by letting candidates review a school’s outline proposal before agreeing to interview; and allows schools to share details of policies that candidates can review when invited for interview.)
In case it’s useful for you: here’s our guide to potential international school interview questions.
Be clear on your requirements. Recruiting international school teachers has additional layers of complexity versus the process ‘at home’. One area to be clear on is background checks which can vary significantly in cost, complexity, and time from country to country. This analysis by the Council of International Schools gives latest requirements (valid in 2017) for most countries globally.
2. Retain the best staff
With staff turnover high (typically around 15-25% of staff leave an international school each year) it’s important to retain your best staff.
If you are confident that your initial recruitment is robust (which you will only learn over time), incentivize staff to accept a 2 year vs 1 year initial contract.
Support their Continuing Professional Development. There are many reasons that teachers leave their home country to work abroad (survey here) but Career Development can be high on the list.
Get the basics right. Teachers coming to an international school are leaving their home, their friends, their network, and possibly their culture. We know of teachers who arrive for their new school job and leave again within the week as a junior HR staff member was too harassed to help them, the accommodation promised was not delivered, and there were unforeseen deductions in future income.
As well as the normal needs of a head teacher to welcome new staff, induct them into the culture, and set expectations, we’d advise that new international heads ensure that the tone is consistent throughout the onboarding process. One weak link can jeopardise the future commitment of a new staff member to a school.
Don’t over-commit to weak staff. Although we’ve highlighted that retaining staff is important, you also need transparent and robust appraisal systems to ensure you identify staff that are not worth keeping. Have those development discussions early (so that they have a chance to improve) but don’t be tempted to retain them just to keep that hard-to-fill STEM job occupied.
3. Plan for succession
Succession planning is an area that is often overlooked given the consistent pressures of recruitment as well as managing the complexity of the day-to-day running of a school. Heads (of school and department) should invest time and build processes to enable a strong succession planning pipeline.
What are the capabilities (often leadership and softer skills) that need to be developed in more junior staff members so that they can step up to enhanced leadership positions when required? Which staff are looking for these opportunities? Which are ones you want to support? How will you manage their career expectations if you don’t have current vacancies for them?
4. Grow your own
It is also important to recognise that if the supply of experienced, qualified teachers is under pressure now (and due to get worse in the coming year), then you can ‘grow your own’ (to borrow the phrase from Kai Vacher, Principal at British School Muscat) and nurture talent in your own community. As he explains in his article here, his school has successfully developed capable Teaching Assistants into fully qualified teachers.
Attracting, developing, and retaining staff will likely be a much larger part of an International head’s agenda than in a home country school. It’s important to embrace this challenge.