In recent years, alongside every statistic around recruitment, retention and resourcing, there has been an entreaty to organisations to focus on upskilling.
Globally, we hear that upskilling and reskilling is what organisations must do if they stand any chance of dealing with future skills shortages. PWC predicts that by 2020 “the talent shortage and skills gap in the U.S. alone is expected to total a loss of $8.5 trillion”. Yet, according to MIT and Deloitte, just 34 per cent of workers they surveyed feel that their organisations fostered their skills development opportunities.
When it comes to skills shortages, schools are not exempt.
A 2021/22 report from Ofsted warned that many schools are experiencing, “ongoing challenges in recruiting and retaining qualified staff, and that this needs to be “urgently addressed”.
More recently, figures published by the UK Department for Education show that just 59 per cent of the secondary school teachers required by the state sector were recruited in 2022, a sign that staffing challenges are only going to get worse. The independent sector fairs slightly better, but there is no room for complacency. It has been reported that more than half (53 per cent) of universities and independent schools say it is difficult to recruit staff.
But can additional training help with staff retention? What does “upskilling” even mean? And more specifically, what does this look like for schools?
Upskilling and reskilling
At Jaluch, we believe that schools, in line with most other commercial businesses, will typically have five key “upskilling” and “reskilling” priorities:
- Developing leadership capability
- Preparing existing staff for roles that do not currently exist
- Continuing professional development for all
- Rigorous personal development for ambitious employees
- Continual, committed and focussed learning around technology
Developing leadership capability
Just because your school leaders have been successful across the last ten years does not guarantee success for the next ten.
Senior school heads are just like everyone else. They must invest time in their own development to ensure they continue learning and adapting.
Unfortunately, our experience at Jaluch, is the most senior people in any organisation tend to be the first to excuse themselves from training. Or they simply do not turn up – perhaps believing the pressing tasks they have to hand are more important than skill building. The demands of a senior school role can be fully understood, but this is not the time for leaders to dip out of learning, in the vain hope they will be still seen as “current” in five years’ time.
“The most senior people in any organisation tend to be the first to excuse themselves from training.”
The focus here could be to get senior school staff to identify what skills they themselves might want to develop – ideally based on some of the great research that has been coming out of the large global business schools.
Preparing for roles that do not currently exist
Harvard Business Review published an article entitled 21 jobs of the future some years back, but it is still a brilliant wake up call. It reminds us just how much we need to keep running to keep up. Letting skills stagnate is simply not an option.
Let us consider three jobs your school could feasibly be advertising for at some point in the future:
- A Chatbot and human facilitator to join your marketing team.
- An algorithm bias auditor to support to support those using software for automated decision making e.g., following exams/assessments
- A digital process engineer within your finance department.
Sound far-fetched? Well, these are all roles currently being advertised in the corporate world.
Of course, it takes time to envisage what your school will need in the future and identify how to train your existing employees so they can fill those roles. It requires complex problem-solving, transformational thinking, emotional intelligence, and inter-department collaboration.
“It takes time to envisage what your school will need in the future.”
However, the cost of having your competitors storm ahead of you in the market because they adopted these practices much earlier, and have already re-trained their staff, might be a price too high to pay for many schools.
Continuing professional development
Your existing team should be continually updating their skills set to remain “current” which, in turn, will ensure ongoing competence and confidence.
Think about your own school and your existing staff body. Aim high and focus on training that helps your teams become the bright lights of the future. In the increasingly competitive independent school market, you will certainly put yourself in a stronger position if you have staff who embrace modern technology, are receptive to diverse ways of working and enjoy being part of a culture that prioritises continuous learning and development.
The aim for any school leader should be on developing teams who are confident and competent in their roles this year, and will be next year, and the year after that.
Rigorous development for ambitious employees
It is fair to say, that if you invest in training your best and brightest colleagues and you may yet lose them. But, just like your students, if you do not provide opportunities to really stretch and challenge them, they will leave anyway!
So, this point is as much about retention as it is upskilling.
So how do you decide where to invest your time and money?
Firstly, there are always the training essentials: effective onboarding, safeguarding, health and safety, first aid training and so on. Then there is training which enhances productivity and quality: technical training, job-specific training or coaching around project management, time management skills, delegation, adaptability etc.
But what about developing “life” skills? This might include effective communication, self-presentation, negotiation and influencing skills etc. Some are now calling these “power” skills.
“Psychometric profiling can be a quick and cost-effective way to help people understand their own strengths.”
When was the last time you ran a session on respect in the workplace or on self-esteem and self-confidence or feeling comfortable with change? All these are topics which we have seen an increasing demand for in business in recent years with positive, proven, outcomes.
Equally, have you ever completed individual psychometric profiling for the people in your school with responsibility for line managing others? This can be a quick and highly cost-effective way to help people understand their own strengths, and how they are viewed by others.
Consider asking your teams what training they would like? What are they interested in? What skills would they like to enhance or develop? What might enhance their careers or support them with some of the more niche areas of their roles?
If the requests made seem beyond your budget, consider making it a shared responsibility. Or, if it is retention you are worried about, ask that they commit to a refund if they leave within a certain period.
Training in technology
It cannot be said often enough: digital innovation requires ever higher competence and confidence in IT for the most junior to the most senior of staff, whatever role they are in.
Developing tech skills across any organisation is a “no-brainer”. We live in a world of such speedy IT innovation that millions of employees are struggling to keep up.
Tech is changing so fast and there are simply too many in the workplace who very quickly find themselves struggling with new digital devices/programmes etc. So, use your upskilling programme to help your staff keep up. These could include weekly “lunch and learns”, 10-minute coffee break “knowledge busters” or a little bit of eLearning on a niche topic.
Any upskilling plan you develop must include opportunities for your staff to learn/develop tech skills in a safe environment. You should also recognise that this will take many of them outside their comfort zones. Whether it is an updated customer relationship management tool for your admissions team, increasing digital capabilities within your marketing and finance departments, or more dynamic tech for the classroom, never assume people will just get it.
“Upskilling does not have to be complicated or expensive.”
Do not expect people to be confident or to automatically use your new software to its full capability. Most importantly, never assume your organisation can survive if everyone who struggles with tech, leaves to go elsewhere…. or decides to retire.
Finally, seek to share resources and expertise. Last month, one of our team delivered a 15-minute training session on “great Googling skills”. Sound obvious? It was fascinating! He explained how to find what you want, faster and without all the distracting rubbish that appears with every search. Who knew something as simple as a Google search had so many new, time-saving capabilities. It is always worth asking your colleagues what pieces of niche knowledge they might have, and whether they would be willing to share it with the rest of your team.
Ultimately, “upskilling” does not have to be complicated or expensive, yet the benefits to your school, just like in any other commercial enterprise, could be significant and allow you to face the future with greater confidence.
This article first appeared in the summer 2023 print and digital edition of School Management Plus, out now.