Recruitment & Retention

The Pandemic Changed Teacher Recruiting. Here’s What It Looks Like Now

By Elizabeth Heubeck — February 10, 2023 4 min read
Illustration of laptop with a hand holding a resume coming out of screen.
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In March of 2020, just as district recruiters were ramping up for their peak season, in-person job fairs came to a grinding halt. What had long been the main method of attracting and vetting the upcoming year’s crop of teachers suddenly was no longer accessible.

As schools pivoted to online instruction for students that spring, many recruiters followed suit. The virtual job fair replaced the traditional job fair. Three years later, classroom instruction has largely returned to in-person learning, but virtual job fairs remain part of the recruitment mix.

The pandemic changed not just how recruiters did their jobs but also the urgency around those jobs. Last March, 44 percent of public schools nationwide reported having teaching vacancies, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Sixty-one percent of the schools reporting vacancies pointed to the COVID-19 pandemic as a cause. Anecdotal evidence suggests that recruitment remains a significant challenge for K-12 recruiters this year.

In fact, recruiters report that recruiting, post-pandemic, has become more complex than ever—with job fairs being just one piece of the puzzle.

In-person, virtual, or hybrid?

Last month, Education Week posted an unscientific poll aimed at recruiters, asking: Will your career fairs this recruiting season be in-person, virtual, or hybrid? Of the 345 responses, 49 percent selected in-person career fairs; 20 percent said they’d be using virtual formats, and 31 percent said they’d be going with a hybrid format this year.

This fairly even split between in-person and (at least somewhat virtual) career fairs shows that having options is a plus for recruiters.

“To connect with a variety of different types of candidates, having that virtual piece in your recruiting portfolio is almost essential,” said Brian White, the executive director of human resources and operations for the Auburn-Washburn Unified School District 437 in Topeka, Kan. “If not, you’re going to miss out on some candidates.”

Job fairs are no longer the mainstay

White said this season his recruiting team will attend in-person, university-sponsored job fairs. But expectations may not match those of former years, as he’s seen a decline in the number of candidates who show up.

“They [job candidates] don’t wait for fairs anymore,” White said. “Candidates are being hired before the job fairs.”

This may explain, at least in part, results of a fall 2022 EdWeek Research Center survey in which just 5 percent of 1,200 job seekers said they find out about job openings in K-12 education at virtual job fairs or recruiting events. Slightly more—8 percent—said they turn to in-person job fairs or events to learn about these jobs. These K-12 job seekers said the top three sources they use to learn about K-12 jobs are: district websites (cited by 54 percent), word of mouth (47 percent), and education-focused career websites (42 percent). These statistics show that there’s no single way to attract candidates, a reality that White acknowledges.

“We have to do a better job of meeting them where they are,” he said.

‘We’re trying to remove barriers’

Michael Harris, senior director of talent management for Milwaukee Public Schools, is making strides toward that goal. The district this year has returned to on-site, in-person job fairs—but with a twist.

“They’re blended job fairs. When someone can’t make it in person, they can drop into a Zoom,” he said. “We’re trying to remove barriers.”

Providing a central meeting place that’s on a bus line and also offers parking ensures that transportation issues don’t pose an obstacle to job candidates, Harris explained. And when candidates show up, they can do much more than simply shake someone’s hand and drop off a resume.

“You can apply for a job, upload information, interview. All of that is handled at one time,” Harris said. “It’s definitely a strategy that we’re seeing good traction with.”

Recruiting today is faster-paced and year-round

While the sense of urgency around recruiting ramps up each spring, the notion of a single recruiting season has begun to erode, experts said. “It’s become a much more year-round process,” said White, who explained that the ongoing teacher shortage drives the need for continuous recruitment efforts.

Even his district, which last year won a “best employer of the year” award from Forbes, continues to receive fewer applicants. The decline, White said, has been “year after year for a while.”

“I wish I could say it was us, because it would be easier to fix,” White said.

Instead, White said, he and his team do what’s in their control to remain competitive in the tight labor market, which requires diligence and speed.

“If you’re a candidate looking at two districts, the one you hear back from and feel the best about is the one you’re going to go with,” White said. “In this market, as a recruiter, if you’re not talking to a candidate, somebody else is.”

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