Workplace Trends
January 26, 2024

The Next Labor Shortage: Why the Education Sector Needs Immediate Attention

There have been countless headlines about the growing dissatisfaction among healthcare workers over the past few years, and for good reason. Since 2020, 18% of healthcare workers have quit their jobs, with 3 in 5 physicians reporting symptoms of burnout and nearly half of all nurses reporting burnout, too. Healthcare professionals have been pushed to their limit and have grown tired of dealing with an environment of long hours and inadequate compensation.

Taking a closer look at industry-wide labor trends reveals that this talent shortage and high attrition is mirrored elsewhere, too—most closely in the education sector. Let’s examine what’s been fueling the shortage of educators—whether traditional K-12 teachers, substitute teachers, or tutors—and how organizations can address this industry-wide crisis. 

A perfect storm for dissatisfaction: Examining the sources of the educator shortage

Pandemic-fueled burnout

Though educators weren’t on the frontlines of hospitals and clinics during the height of the pandemic, they too found themselves in unfamiliar territory, juggling virtual classrooms, parental anxieties, and their own health concerns. This pressure cooker environment led to an alarming rise in burnout, with many teachers questioning their ability to continue. According to a 2022 survey by the National Education Association, more than 50% of educators reported feeling burned out, and a staggering 37% considered leaving the profession altogether. 

This isn’t just for traditional K-12 educators, either; there has been a shortage of substitute teachers and tutors since the pandemic, too—and their sources of burnout are largely the same. 

What can be done:

Ensuring you are adequately staffed to alleviate burnout is the first step. No substitute teacher wants to enter a classroom larger than they can handle, in an already foreign environment, and try to juggle more than they can manage on a day-to-day basis. The same goes for tutors or other educators. Making sure that your staff can provide adequate attention to all students in their care—without feeling overworked—is crucial to keeping burnout at bay. 

Increasing demands and stagnant resources

The pandemic not only left teachers feeling burned out by trying to navigate new learning models, but its aftermath created an ongoing skills gap that’s still being felt industry-wide. Harvard research shows that by the spring of 2022, the average student was lagging by roughly half a year in math and a third of a year in reading.

Many families tried to navigate the post-pandemic learning loss by seeking extra help for their child, creating a shortage of tutors who could help bridge this gap. Educators of all kinds have felt this increased pressure to make up for lost time while juggling new expectations from parents and school boards—all while going without the resources to match. Class sizes have grown across the country, leaving teachers with increased administrative burdens, their passion for teaching overshadowed by their growing sense of overwhelm. Research shows that most teachers are putting in an average of 12 hours of unpaid labor every week

How can educators be expected to meet increased demand with fewer resources and more burnout? 

What can be done:

Just as in healthcare, when teachers are under-resourced, both their job performance and their own wellbeing can be at risk. Providing additional support staff and eliminating unnecessary administrative burdens can be a solid first step in addressing the amount of unpaid labor educators are being tasked with. Organizations can put guardrails in place so that after-hours work—such as grading assignments or handling student requests—can be delegated to additional support staff if possible. 

Inadequate compensation

Perhaps one of the biggest, most obvious roadblocks in navigating the educator shortage is inadequate compensation. Teachers simply aren’t being compensated fairly to make up for the increased burdens and added demands that the past several years have created. More than 50% of teachers who quit cite inadequate pay as a significant factor

What can be done:

All educators deserve to be fairly compensated for the meaningful work they do, so ensuring your staff is being paid a competitive wage is the first step. You may also consider your educators’  total benefits package in order to provide other meaningful incentives that can have a true impact on their daily lives. Offering accelerated pay through a solution like Branch can alleviate financial stress by providing faster access to earnings. 

Navigating the education crisis, with inspiration from the healthcare sector

Among traditional K-12 educators, substitute teachers, and tutors, there are common threads of pandemic-fueled burnout, increased demand, and inadequate compensation creating a perfect storm of dissatisfaction and attrition. Addressing the educator shortage will require a multi-pronged approach, similar to what innovative companies in the healthcare sector are doing. It starts by tackling the unprecedented levels of burnout, equipping teachers with more support staff and resources, and addressing inadequate compensation—along with looking into meaningful financial benefits like accelerated pay.

Though there is no one-size-fits-all approach, reinvesting in educator wellbeing will not only help your organization succeed in the years to come, but it will benefit the next generation of students who deserve the best learning experiences available.

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