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Closing the Skills Gap in Education

The Ultimate Guide To Closing The Skills Gap In Education

America’s school system is facing a skills gap problem that threatens to invalidate free education for millions of students. For example, in Detroit, even students are upset at the massive teacher shortages at Cody Medicine and Community Health Academy.

Eli Loftin, a ninth grader at the high school, said the main tasks he does in his math class are not through instruction, but on worksheets. Alex White, another student who wants to be an engineer, said the lack of certified teachers at the high school is “frustrating.”

In fact, Shalon Miller, a teacher at the high school, insists it’s a district-wide problem that can’t be helped. “I think we’re missing 264 teachers district-wide,” she said.“ We have 163 of those positions with permanent subs and [over] 90 of those positions are unfilled.”

The situation is dire.

In 2011, the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) discovered that over ten years, 1.6 million new teachers would need to be hired to fill the gaps created by highly-qualified retirees, and they immediately took action. However, in 2014, the number of teachers needed went up to 2 million, according to a Gallup study on Selecting High-Talent Teachers.

And the gap is only growing wider as we reach that decade mark in crisis mode. Unfortunately, the USDE has reported that enrollment in traditional education programs and colleges has decreased over 30 percent within the last few years.

As school personnel administrators try to figure out the next steps, they’ll need to improve their working relationship and communicate industry needs more effectively in order to attack this growing talent shortage. The relationship is vital, as both parties are addressing a problem which threatens the foundation of free education.

In order to close the skills gap in education, school personnel administrators have a number of obstacles they’ll need to address. Here’s a look at the problems currently affecting hiring in the field of education and, more importantly, how to tackle them:

Address the shrinking pool of qualified candidates for teaching positions.

School personnel administrators must have a firm understanding of the dire straits in terms of the candidate pool in our educational system. In addition to the decline in enrollment for teaching and education programs, many teachers don’t end up in K-12 classrooms after graduation. There’s a gaping void of hundreds of thousands of skilled teachers needed to fill these valuable roles every year.

There’s a number of ways this problem can be addressed. For starters, the education industry itself could stand for a complete brand overhaul. Potential teachers need to be excited about joining schools and doing the work. Video technology can show them a glimpse into the value of pursuing a career in education.

Now, we don’t mean your typical PSA, but rather a personal outreach that taps into the emotional fibers of teachers. For example, school districts can create recruiting videos aimed at qualified candidates who have shown the skills necessary to be successful that directly addresses the unique value they possess. A targeted message to candidates is a great way to get them fired up about entering the industry.

Furthermore, video technology can be used to show potential teachers background information on school districts and workplace culture so they can determine their fit before they ever enter the hiring process. The lack of teachers is a pressing issue, so giving candidates an early look of what they’re facing will undoubtedly help decrease turnover in the long run.

School personnel administrators shouldn’t only be looking to fill in vacancies, but should be ensuring those vacancies do not become open again in the immediate future. Making sure all candidates have an informed view of what’s happening and igniting passion back into the talent pool is the only way to be certain new hires aren’t just plugging holes; they’re going to be permanent fixtures at these institutions.

Identify the problems current teachers face in closing the skills gap.

Graduation rates

One of the major issues the education system faces is graduation rates. In order to increase the pool of teachers, we must first ensure there are enough students graduating from the K-12 system. After all, grade-level students need to finish high school to attend college. Graduation rates, student engagement, and student hope are the three pillars to ensure this is possible.

A Gallup survey, Addressing The Teacher Shortage: Advice For School Leaders, of 900,000 students in grades five through 12 found only 48 percent are hopeful about their future. Hope is important because it’s linked with students’ ability to have ideas and energy to plan for their future. New teaching hires are going to have to increase this number once they’ve signed on to the job. But that’s not the only challenge they will face.

A new wrinkle for incoming teachers is students in the individualized education program (IEP). Traditionally, students with IEPs were offered their own curriculum and classrooms, with designated specialized teaching staff. More recently, they’ve been included into classes with the general population.

Results from a 2017 study by Rennie Center on the Condition of Education found an 11 percent increase in IEP integration since 2013. Presently, 61 percent of IEP students spend almost 80 percent of their day in inclusive instructional settings. It’s an additional challenge for teachers because they require a different set of skills and attention than other students.

If new teachers are not prepared to take on the challenge of the inclusion of IEP students, the impact could greatly affect the graduation rate, as the success of these students affects the number of graduates going on to college.  


Millennials are set to play a major role in the increase of new hires. A study on Managing Millennial Teachers: Major Challenges For Schools by Gallup last year revealed they make up 38 percent of America’s workforce, and they’re going to make up the majority of new teaching hires. But millennials value different things in the workforce than their teacher predecessors, so the challenge with hiring them is ensuring schools rise to meet their needs.

Unfortunately, millennials don’t have the most sterling hiring reputation and present some of their own unique challenges.

In fact, in the Managing Millennial Teachers study, millennials are described as: unattached, as 29 percent are less likely to be engaged in the workplace, while 55 percent are ambivalent; unconstrained, since they tend to push for changes in the workplace; and idealistic, as they put a high value on jobs that gives them a sense of purpose and make them feel important.

This evidence should not alarm school personnel administrators, however. Gallup discovered the effect millennials are having on leadership as they enter the workplace and that should shed some light on hiring this generation.

They choose jobs that give them a meaningful sense of purpose while also seeking employment that can develop their full potential. Coaching and ongoing conversations with real-time feedback also rank highly on their list. Lastly, millennials want their development to be based on building on their strengths and are seeking to align themselves with organizations that will help them thrive in their overall lives.

School personnel administrators working with millennials will need to transform the workplace in order to keep them around long term. And it will be up to recruiters to get the word to them that the teaching industry is changing to suit their needs. Adopting the technology that reaches this highly-connected generation on a very personal level is a good place to start.

Define the exact skills the position requires.

This may go without saying, but recruiters need to create job descriptions that are accurate to the precise skill set needed to become a successful teacher in this new age. They should be looking for the sort of skills that will be able to provide value from day one clear through the evolution of the education system over their career.

School personnel administrators should back up recruiters with training programs to further enhance an employee’s skill set to meet the growing demands of future generations. If school districts offer continual training, recruiters need to make sure this is explicitly stated and these programs need to be matched to the needs of the talent recruited.

There are three elements to employee performance and engagement: achievement, accountability, and accessibility. Achievement means establishing clear goals and expectations — both of which should be directed by school personnel administrators.

It’s tough for employees to meet their performance goals when they don’t know what’s expected of them, and education is no exception. Unfortunately, a Gallup study on Obsolete Annual Reviews in 2015 found that approximately 50 percent of employees don’t know what’s expected of them at work. This issue exceeds the workplace, however, and truly begins in the hiring process.  

A lack of expectations will lead to low employee engagement. Low employee engagement is linked to high turnover. High turnover means recruiters will constantly need more bodies as people leave education to pursue other opportunities.

Rather than working backwards, if job candidates have expectations and goals clearly defined prior to hiring, there is a greater likelihood they will succeed in their role — ending the cycle where it starts.

Defining the exact skills necessary to excel is the first step in encouraging teacher engagement and bolstering performance to eliminate the skills gap in education.

Get the right cultural fit for teaching districts.

Not all school districts are created equally, and the skills and traits possessed by each teacher need to satisfy the demands of the student population, the teaching environment, and the current culture. The best way to ensure long-term solutions to the shrinking number of skilled teachers is to fit square pegs into square holes. Therefore, getting the right cultural fit should be a high priority for recruiting and hiring professionals alike.

Skills-based and personality assessments

Together, school personnel administrators need to make sure teachers can actually do the job. To close the skills gap, getting the right cultural fit must go beyond teaching certifications. Skills-based assessments must test both hard and soft skills.

Testing both sets of skills is a good way to determine teacher qualifications and their effectiveness to teach in that specific district. It’s also an avenue where video technology can be a great help.

A one-way video interview screening is an easy way to see the whole picture of qualifications. Personality tests are an incredible way to assess a broad range of soft skills, but watching someone’s body language as they answer a tough question can be just as, if not more, effective in discerning how a potential teacher might compose themselves in challenging situations.

Moreover, getting a visual glimpse of a teacher during a video interview is a great way to evaluate their ability to research and prepare, communicate verbally, and see how they might behave in front of a classroom of students, observing them with the same scrutiny.

Collaborative hiring processes

Job interviews are time-consuming and in a suffering industry like education, time is of an essence. According to LinkedIn’s most recent Global Recruiting Trends Report, the average company takes about one to two months to complete a hiring cycle, but 50 percent of those companies lean toward the latter. Between conflicting work schedules and work-life balance, it can be difficult to get all the required parties on the same page.

Collaborative video interviews are a great way to solve this issue. They offer hiring teams the flexibility to view candidates on their time, however, they can observe the exact same live interview responses, compare notes, and collectively choose the best candidate without the hiccups of scheduling and executing a panel interview. It speeds up the process of reviewing candidates, while enabling everyone who contributes to the hiring decision to be equally well-informed.

Closing the skills gap for education requires school personnel administrators use every trick in their tool bag for finding the right candidates. Video has many advantages in a collaborative hiring process because the new hire is going to affect so many working parts of the whole education system. What better way to ensure the candidate is a perfect cultural fit than to source as much valuable input as possible?

Whether it’s through skills-based and personality assessments or a well-rounded team-hiring process, school personnel administrators and recruiters have to work together to effectively and fully screen new hires in education.

Make onboarding easy, efficient, and effective.

Onboarding plays a crucial role in long-term employment. A survey of more than 1,000 respondents across four working generations, conducted by The Center for Generational Kinetics and Ultimate Software, found one-third of employees knew within the first week whether they’d stay with a company for the long-haul. After a month, 63 percent of employees made the same decision.

It’s crucial to nail the onboarding process to ensure new teachers will stick with the program. Not only is it expensive to recruit and replace new hires, the turnover has a lasting impact on the future generations watching the revolving door of teaching staff spin in today’s grade-level schools.

An effective way to accelerate the onboarding process is to offer new teachers introductory training videos prior to day one. Assess their concerns and determine which skills may need fine-tuned to meet the needs of the school system in a two-way interview. Then generate engaging methods to prepare them for the onboarding process once they start work.

Follow up with with new teaching hires throughout the onboarding process and address any issues that come up in real time. Keeping a library of teacher- and administrative-lead video tutorials on hand can allow everyone access to resources to brush up on skills, while also introducing a unique way to engage the teaching staff in the training process of new hires.

Ensure teachers are fully engaged in the workplace.

Teachers need a lot of support to do their jobs. They need to know the administration, staff, and other faculty members are working together for the greater success of both students and other teachers.

Consider implementing office team-building exercises to foster a sense of unity within the workplace. There should also be continual training to enhance lesson plans for students and keep them fully engaged during class time. The improved engagement of the students will improve the engagement of teachers, as well.

Create a means for teachers newly hired and tenured to get together and work out solutions to issues they face. And most importantly, provide a safe place for them to bring their concerns to higher-ups when they cannot resolve conflicts. The more unified the teachers are, the more engaged they will be in the school system.

Closing the skills gap within America’s educational institutions can be a tall order. Effective communication and a good relationship between school personnel administrators, and new teachers is the key to a successful education system. The future of the industry relies on the careful balance of cultural fit, engagement, and training. Closing the skills-gap begins with setting the example for future generations and inspiring them to teach.

What issues do you see in the current state of the education system talent pool? Let us know how your school administration or recruiting team is addressing the shortage in the comments below.

Josh Tolan

Josh Tolan is the Founder and CEO of Spark Hire, a video interviewing platform used by 6,000+ customers in over 100 countries.