Just as teachers are finding that their jobs aren’t exactly as they were before the pandemic, the same is true for K-12 human resources professionals and other administrators who hire talent.
Recruiting is taking up more time for many of them. In a nationwide survey conducted in February 2022 by the EdWeek Research Center, nearly half of all respondents—which included 263 district leaders and 165 principals—reported that they planned to spend more time on employee recruiting.
And it’s not just taking more time; recruiters are spending that time differently.
Education Week checked in with K-12 recruiters from around the nation and learned that the expanded toolkit of recruiting tactics includes a mix of technology-based innovations and old-fashioned grassroots efforts. The strategies may vary, but the goal remains the same: to attract and recruit job seekers who can fill vacancies—a task that for many districts has taken on a greater sense of urgency.
“I’ve been in human resources [in education] for 19 years, and I remember the days when we had 400 candidates for one position. It’s been a complete turnaround. It’s hard,” said Susan Muenter, executive director of the Wisconsin Association of School Personnel Administrators, who says her state’s hardest-to-fill positions include support roles such as bus drivers and paraprofessionals.
Virtual job fairs remain in the mix
Virtual job fairs, which took off during the pandemic, remain a vital part of overall recruiting plans for many K-12 HR professionals. The biggest difference is that, now, recruiters generally aren’t relying on them out of necessity.
“We want to give applicants their choice of how they would like to be interviewed,” said Sherry Wilson, an assistant superintendent for human resources in Virginia’s Fairfax County Public Schools, which serves over 180,000 students. At the district’s most recent job fair, participants could register for a virtual or in-person option. Simultaneously, as one team of recruiters was interviewing candidates virtually, the other team conducted in-person interviews. Wilson said participation in the job fair was about evenly split between the two options.
Other districts continue to use virtual job fairs, too. During the pandemic, the Carrollton-Farmers Branch school district in Texas, where Randy Davis serves as chief human resources officer, bought software that allowed the district of approximately 25,000 students to host its own virtual job fairs. As COVID-related health mandates were lifted, the district continued to lean on virtual job fairs as part of its overall recruiting strategy.
Davis says the deliberate decision to continue using virtual job fairs benefits two sets of job seekers.
One group of local job seekers appreciates the anonymity of meeting prospective employers virtually, an advantage over an in-person area job fair, where they risk running into their current employer. The virtual option also appeals to out-of-state job seekers, who are more likely to consider a distant district if they can eliminate the inconvenience of traveling to meet recruiters.
As a result, the district has seen an increase in candidates from California and the East Coast over the last two years, Davis said.
Fairfax County’s virtual recruiting efforts have taken that tactic a step further, extending their virtual reach beyond the 50 states.
Wilson, the HR leader, says the district began reaching out to a wider net of candidates before the pandemic via recruitment fairs and electronic advertisements, specifically in Puerto Rico, successfully recruiting several individuals. During the pandemic, the district continued those outreach efforts, says Wilson, and is actively planning to expand them in the future.
“We’re always looking for ways to diversify our workforce,” said
A blend of old and new efforts
While some recruiters extol the benefits of virtual recruiting strategies they discovered during the pandemic, others continue to use traditional, hyperlocal tactics to attract job seekers.
Olentangy Schools in Lewis Center, Ohio, is a fast-growing district of 23,000 students that, since 2018, has opened two schools and is preparing for a third opening. Todd Meyer, the district’s chief operations officer, says that to meet increased hiring needs, the district has implemented a multilayered recruitment approach.
Recruiters there use social media, attend job fairs, host their own broad job-recruiting events as well as smaller, targeted events to find intervention specialists and other specific positions. The district also posts signs at schools and on school buses parked in highly visible parking lots. The diversified strategy is paying off. The district began the current school year in August with 100 percent of teaching positions filled, according to Meyer.
Olentangy Schools also relies on community members—from students’ parents to community-based organizations—to spread the word of open positions, with an emphasis on candidates of color, an approach Meyer says has been effective. Compared to the 2021-22 school year, the percentage of new staff members for the current school year who identify as individuals of color increased in all categories: 9.2 percent for administrative hires, 3.1 percent for certified hires, and 1.1 percent for classified hires.
With that growth, 22 percent of the district’s new administrators, 13 percent of its new certified staff, and 15 percent of its new classified staff this academic year identify as individuals of color. Thirty four percent of the district’s student body identifies as individuals of color.
The Carrollton-Farmers Branch district is also deploying a grassroots method of recruiting. Starting last year, the district’s human resources and communications departments worked together to launch an active recruiting model, which Davis says involves asking employees to serve as “recruiting ambassadors.”
“We give them talking points about the benefits of working for the district,” Davis said. “Even during orientation, we talk [to new hires] about being a community of recruiters.”
Included in those talking points are the district’s advantages: competitive salaries, opportunities for supplemental pay for strong teacher performance, stipends for hard-to-fill positions, a childcare center for employees’ children, and more.
The watchword is variety: From displaying job ads on the lawns of their school campuses to greeting job applicants over the internet, there’s no single path to attracting viable job candidates in the post-pandemic climate.
As Wisconsin’s Muenter said: “The pandemic forced us to be more flexible—and to keep more options open.”