School Assembly S2E3: Recruitment in a time of teacher shortages

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Hello and welcome to the School Assembly podcast. I’m Jo Earp, and in this second series we’re following Jo Camozzato and the team at Bemin Secondary College, which is in Melbourne. If you’re new to School Assembly, it’s the podcast that explores what it’s like to build a school from the ground up. So, Bemin Secondary is a dual-campus college in Truganina, which is just to the north of Melbourne – that will open to students from the first day of the 2024 school year.

And, as we head into October then, Jo has been busy building her team of teachers, of leaders and support staff as well. We know that things are tricky on the teacher recruitment front at the moment. We’ll be chatting about how things are going, maybe some of the strategies she’s been using to spread the word and promote the positions that’s she got available to those potential candidates. So, plenty to get through again, I hope you enjoy Episode 3.

Jo Earp: Hello again Jo, good to catch up with you again. We're meeting online today. Now, one of our recent infographics for Teacher looks at the growing problem of teacher shortages in Australia and for listeners who haven't seen that one, it shows how 90% of principals report experiencing a teacher shortage in the last 12 months. That's more than triple the rate in 2018. So, that's what's happening for most school leaders out there. Tell us what the experience is for you and your colleagues.

Jo Camozzato: Yes, look I would have to agree with some of those statistics. And look, I have to sort of preface this by saying obviously everyone's school context is a bit different and this is just from my point of view and my experience, but there's definitely less applicants totally across the board. You know, 3 or 4 years ago you could get between 25 to 40 applicants in an outer suburb, new school. I'm sort of lucky now to get one applicant for positions. Usually, it's zero, a big amount would be 4; so, there's no doubt that's changed.

And there's a lot of different trends now I think, more and more you might offer a position also to teachers and then what happens is they may accept it, but then a month later or 2 months later they actually ring you to say they've accepted a position somewhere else. You know, it's kind of, it's a really challenging space. I mean, usually we used to leave most of our recruitment drive until Term 4, now you've got to start virtually, you know, in June for the following year. So, I've been recruiting heavily and advertising steadily since July of this year and I'm still not close. I'm, you know, we'll talk about that a bit later, I know.

There are different things that you're up against. So, depending on the system and the state, there are incentives to stay, there's bonuses to come across to another school – but of course most of us are trying to work within what's fair and equitable for the current staff that we've employed or staff that we've got on our books. But I also think, Jo, that you know, teaching’s no longer, I think perceived necessarily by people or the public as an attractive profession to go into. It used to be ‘Oh, you know, you get school holidays …’ Well, you know, let's be honest. I mean, this is when teachers and principal teams and education staff want to go away and this is when we're slugged with the highest airplane tickets, the highest costs of Airbnb's. So, we'd really rather travel other times of the year. So, school holidays don't have that attraction.

And we also know that there are other vocations out there with competitive salaries. Some places allow you to work from home; and even though I know employers want to get people back, the reality is that that space has changed, and people are able to work from home in many things – small startups, big businesses. And some schools, maybe that's possible, but most parents want their kids to go to a place, to go to school, because they've gone to work themselves, and they don't want younger children staying at home. It's easy to say that, but it's not necessarily easy to achieve.

Yeah, there's a lot of things that have changed. I think there's a, you know, a big trend here, also of how it's perceived in the news. I think the media sometimes presents the negative aspects of schools and teaching, and that's sad. I know we get a lot of positive stories, but we don't always remember the positive stories. We remember the conflict things that have happened at schools, lockdowns. So, I'm not sure if it's really attracting the amount of people into education that it used to, yeah.

JE: You're up against a lot at the moment, and then, like you say, with that invitation to work from home for a lot of people as well, that also plays into that. So, the latest update then at Bemin Secondary College, you've hired 5 leaders, which is great, so you've got your leadership team fleshed out there. You've hired 12 teachers, but you've still got about 10/11 full-time teachers to recruit. When you’re staffing a secondary school then, it's usually very, very different from a primary in that you've got all those subject specialists and some different types of courses too. I mean, in addition to those things you've talked about, are there particular subject areas that are more difficult to recruit for?

JC: Yeah, except I’d say that’s a changing landscape all the time as well. It used to be the last couple of years, Maths and Science and particularly senior secondary Maths was difficult. And even though I don't need people who can teach Specialist Maths right now, I still need people to understand where it's going, and I need people to be able to extend those kids that require that kind of challenge. But to be honest, it's changed. I can't find PE teachers. I've struggled, there's no Food [Technology] teachers out there. I need teachers in English and Humanities. So now it's just pretty much, you know, luck of the game in some ways of what comes your way.

I've been successful in recruiting a Design Tech teacher and Digital Tech teachers, but other schools are crying out for those. And even before this interview, I'm always looking online to see here in Victoria how many positions are up across other schools.

And, you know, there's 26 schools that need a Food teacher, a secondary school teacher for next year. And I don't know if there's 26 Food teachers out there! And there's 70 PE jobs up, and I know many of my colleagues are looking for PE teachers. So, it's no longer just a specialist area, it really is across the board.

I don't want this to sound like dire straits, but it is a really big challenge for many, many schools. And I still have a small need for staff, there are big schools out in the western suburbs here who will need 30/40 staff next year to replace staff that have moved on. So, that's quite daunting. And I have been in situations at my other previous new school, the last couple of years, where I had to recruit 30 to 35 staff, and it's really, really hard work in the current climate. You don't necessarily get there.

JE: Those figures that you mentioned about 70 PE teachers, is that just state?

JC: Yeah. That's just in Victoria. So, I just looked on the [Education] Department recruitment online. So, it doesn't include Catholic and independent schools, it's just what's being advertised in the Victorian state school system. So, you know, that’s just one little area, so to speak.

JE: Yeah. So then, what about the different strategies then that you're employing to advertise then and spread the word and try and keep that recruitment ticking along?

JC: Yeah. Look, I use every avenue that's open to me, I'm very resourceful like that. So, I mean, I use the traditional advertising on the Department recruitment site. I also am using their job pool, the Department of Education here in Victoria have introduced a 3-day turnaround job pool, so you can see in 3 days’ time if anyone’s matched to the position that you want.

I've tapped into universities with a possibility of engaging student provisional teachers, for permission to teach. I'm using 2 agencies from New Zealand to see if I can get some teachers from New Zealand. I'm using an Australian agent just to sort of find me some teachers here in Melbourne. I, you know, advertise on LinkedIn. I don't use Seek and other job advertising platforms anymore, but I have used them in the past. You sort of try to weigh up what's worth what, you know, is it actually working? And I also follow up every lead. I feel like I'm, you know, a real estate agent for teachers at the moment – I will call people that show any interest, I'll tell them to tell their friends, we have a mailing list of teachers who have expressed interest, and we send them updates. Because I sort of have this theory, even if they don't want the position or they don't even get the job if they actually apply, they might tell someone else who will. And I suppose that's reflected also in how I work with staff. I try to always be very authentic and build strong relationships with my staff, because they might say, ‘Hey, Jo's got lots of jobs up at her school. I've worked with her. Why don't you head over there? She builds interesting and fun, strong teams.’

So, you just try, you’ve just got to keep trying. You can't give up. That's probably my biggest mantra, even though it's a bit exhausting. And I'm also advertising more leadership positions than I need. So, I have more Learning Specialists up because I'm just trying to capture strong teachers, somehow. I don't need them all right now, but if I can find them that's fantastic.

JE: We'll put a link in to your LinkedIn and the school LinkedIn and also where you can find these vacancies. Just if there’s anybody out there listening, who thinks they fit the bill. What about, I guess I was thinking about the mix of new staff, but I guess that also is so limited. You know, in a big pool of staff you'd be thinking, ‘Oh, I want a good mix of this/that … early years, experienced, maybe from this background …’ Yeah, I guess you can't be choosy can you – to that extent?

JC: No, that's kind of out the window. Like, in the past, even earlier this year I start off with good intention and I consider the school context, our students – because that's really important, what are our students like? What kind of teachers will best suit them? And then you, technically everyone in finance, you should consider your budget. But realistically now, I don't care. I'm just trying to find teachers that I think have the right skillset or a skillset that we can help build to engage with our students. That’s it. I no longer worry about whether they're grads, experienced, whatever; it's just not viable to think like that.

JE: And that will put pressure on budgets, won’t it, because you could blow out … you know, if all the people available are a particular level, you're going to then have a problem, aren't you? So, this is this is a secondary problem for all principals as well.

JC: Yes, it is. And some schools are obviously in a better position than others to do that. Some schools are very concerned about their budgets. I'm sort of still slightly lucky at the moment because I'm opening a dual campus school, so obviously there's been provision made to staff across 2 campuses. However, I am conscious, like I said earlier, that maybe I wouldn't be putting in as many Learning Specialists as I would normally right now. But if that helps people apply for positions, that sort of extra bit of money; the fact that mortgage rates are high, petrol costs are over $2. I’m trying to do it to see what I can do.

JE: So, what about from your side of things, selling it to the applicants? It's very, very competitive, then. Maybe you get one or 2 applicants. You're a new school, so how do you sell that to them then and say ‘Look, this is the place for you’? Is it down to sort the Vision and the Mission at this stage? Obviously, you've mentioned before there's some kind of personal connection there, but how do you sell this school when it doesn't actually exist?

JC: Yeah. So, honestly, I don't know. I mean, on the Department site that we all still use, there's definitely a school profile blurb and our Vision and Mission Statement is posted there. But people will call me, and they ask me then what the Vision is, and I think, ‘OK, so you haven't actually read what I posted’, and that's all right. So, I think it's more that people want to sort of check out who you are, see if they like the sound of your voice and what you've got to say. Is there a connection there? So, I do try to make those sorts of conversations always authentic, because … it does come down to this now. Everyone's writing different things on their school profile to attract them. I do try to point out how far the school is from certain key places in Melbourne, because that's also a given. And look, I do think maybe there are some keywords in the Vision Statement that are drawing some people in, but honestly, for some people, Jo, it really is like I said before – petrol is over $2 a litre, they're pretty upfront, they're just looking for somewhere closer to home, they're looking to see if there's possibility of leadership development and further positions of responsibility in the future. And some are genuinely curious about the excitement of starting new schools. But I'm really open to everyone because it's really hard to know what is attracting people and what is the point of difference. At the moment, the point of difference is it's a new school and there are great possibilities in new schools.

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JE: From the candidate side of things, then. Let's assume that you've advertised your job, you get 5 applicants. What are you looking for then? I guess I’m asking for your interview tips really. As the principal sitting there across the table what is it you're looking for?

JC: Look, I think you know generally nowadays I'm looking for people who I think are going to connect with young people, who are genuinely interested in them, who have a sense of humour, who love learning. Because, you know, we can build skill, we can coach, we can support, you can learn content knowledge, but the ability to work in teams, and the ability to be flexible and respond to others is what I'm listening out for all the time if someone gets a face-to-face interview.

And then there's some little other sort of key tips. Do a bit of homework – know that you've applied to a new school. Sometimes people come in and they say ‘Oh, yeah, I didn't realise it was like brand, brand new!’, and you sort of think ‘What?’. Talk to your referees before you apply for a position and make sure that your referees match the job and that they're up to date and that you have mobile numbers and they're contactable. Because we're all pretty busy and, you know, when you start having to hunt down people, you sort of think ‘Is this person organised? What's going on here?’ and there's all little clues that I always read things into.

And if you find out that you have an interview, kind of put your best foot forward in your own personal style and means. I mean, I think the day where people turn up in suits and ties and you know, really, really formal wear are sort of gone a little bit, but you still want to see that people have a bit of a personality, that they care about who they are, and they care about the fact that they're a professional. Teachers are professionals. A lot of people have studied for 4 to 6 years, sometimes people have done other degrees before they've gone into teaching. And I think sometimes people sell themselves short in the way they come across and how they present themselves. It's like a bit of learned helplessness or low self-esteem amongst the fact that you're a teacher. You know, I hate to sound corny, but stand up and be tall and be proud that this is your chosen vocation for now.

And then my other tip is, I'm going to say this for on behalf of all my principal colleagues out there, across all the systems – tell a principal member of your school that you're applying for a position if you're working in one. There is nothing worse than your colleagues or your principal not knowing that you're applying out. And maybe sometimes there are tensions there and you don't want to say anything at the school, but find someone in leadership to tell. Especially if you've got an interview, because usually that means some referee checks have gone out before the interview or they're going to go out after the interview. I've had it happen to me, even I say to people, ‘Please tell me, you know I understand you want to move you want to grow. I just need to know so I can plan staffing.’ And it is important to do that. You've got to have the courage to tell someone, if you're already in a school.

JE: So, in addition to the teaching roles then you've got all these non-teaching roles that make up a school. And we know it's a team effort, so it's not just the teachers and the leaders, but there's all these other support staff, admin staff and so on. I'm thinking things … everything from sort of the maintenance of the school, counselling maybe. What happens with those roles? Are you sort of hands on with that? Or is that somebody else that takes care of that?

JC: No, I'm definitely hands on with that, but that sort of sits with my Business Manager and myself. And then we always invite a third person from another school onto that panel. So, I'm very much part of that plan. Samantha and I work together: What do we need? Which administration roles do we need first? What support roles do we need first? How many students are coming into our school that require extra support? So, how many Classroom Assistants do we need? Is it too soon for an IT Manager or not? How can we use our funding for mental health? Do we need a Youth Counsellor, Student Counsellor, or do we want a Social Worker? What does that look like?

So, from the start we definitely are building those positions and we've got some of those positions online. I've got 6 laboratories, as you might have remembered from another episode, and even though they might not all be used at the one time next year, we will need a Laboratory Technician to help run those labs and set up practicals. If I can find a Food teacher, we will need a Food [Tech] Assistant to help run those classes and make sure everything's there for the teachers and work with the students in the classroom. So, it's a busy time.

I mean, probably the only role we may not need is a maintenance support person. But, in saying that, new schools, things become unstuck. They, you know, need a little bit of minor repair. As soon as you've put people into a new building, there's wear and tear and, you know, we're not all very skilled in stapling and gluing and sometimes we need a bit of support in that area as well.

JE: And just you mentioning there about wellbeing, how you were going to spend your wellbeing budget and that kind of thing. That's completely changed, hasn't it, over the last few years, sort of the staffing that goes into that? I guess you've seen that change then over your career, the emphasis on student wellbeing?

JC: Yes. Look, I think very attuned schools have always had Wellbeing teams and I was certainly, that was one of my beginning roles as a leader – so I was a Leading Teacher for Student Wellbeing at a school, and I was responsible for prevention programs, supporting students at a short-term counselling level, connecting them with external agencies. I worked with an Assistant Principal, who part of their brief was wellbeing. I went on to become an Assistant Principal that focused on wellbeing and had a team that I worked with.

But I think it's more that it's been acknowledged more strongly by the actual Education Department through funding models, through both federal and state government, that we cannot just see it as a tacked-on thing. It definitely has to be considered in an integrated way in the school, and it's about everyone in the school community – students and staff. And, you know, we've always understood that we understood that before the pandemic. I think the pandemic just gave us a little bit more of a push to really acknowledge it publicly. And I think the young generation of students that are coming through and people who've also just graduated from university in their early careers are very aware of the importance of wellbeing and that we need to make sure that's part of our internal structures.

JE: And I think we'll look at wellbeing as a separate topic in one of the future episodes. But we'll move on for now. I'm thinking some of those support roles - will some of those be sort of outside services? And are there opportunities for schools to share that kind of expertise? We know there's a squeeze on recruitment – are there opportunities there to share some of this expertise?

JC: Look, there's always opportunity, it's just really finding the right person and the right partner. So, I've just stepped out of a school where I had the opportunity with the Primary School Principal that was situated close to my previous school, we were able to share a psychologist, and that was fantastic. She actually found this person and she was a provisional psychologist; she finished her studies, I supported the [last part] of the person's placement and then together, you know, we were able to put up a position and we found that we could share someone across the 2 sites. Which was like the perfect arrangement because that person was also able to support the transitioning of year 6s into the secondary setting, which was great.

Sometimes it's more about forming a partnership with other sort of service providers and seeing if they can come in and support the school or work with the students. So, there's always possibilities Jo, I never say no to anything like that, but it's got to work for everyone. Sometimes it's not always practical, you know, people are looking for a certain amount of work, or the needs of various settings of different schools is quite high and you don't really want to share. But everyone's open I think in education to how can we problem solve these recruitment situations.

JE: And that's something actually, you just reminded me of one of the quotes from last episode, which I really loved, where you were saying about, you know, you've got be prepared to respond to the changing nature of your own circumstances, and most importantly the student cohort, the student needs that you serve. And that's something you've always got to keep in mind, isn't it? So, finally then, before we leave (although we could talk about recruitment all day I think) the usual 3 questions since the last time we spoke then: proudest achievement, biggest hurdle and key learning?

JC: Yeah, look, definitely the proudest achievement was seeing how the year 10 Semester selection process has come together. Sandy, our Assistant Principal has done a great job there. I know I've mentioned that last week, but it's now off the ground. It's about to be delivered electronically out to all our students. One of our colleagues has helped us out, setting it out in how it looks. And I feel really excited because I think, you know, even all this material that you have to produce around helping students understand what's coming up next year needs to be engaging. And I feel that that's we've done a great job there and Sandy's led that area. So that's one of our proudest achievements of the college.

Hurdle – look, I'm going to be really boring and say it's still recruitment, but I'm not going to make any more comments on that. There's nothing more to say.

Now, for my own learning. My own learning is remembering that I love learning. That sounds a bit corny, but I made the time to attend a whole week coaching intensive at the Victorian Academy of Teaching and Leadership during what was our deemed our school holidays, with Jim Knight, and I really, really enjoyed that. It gave me some space to think about coaching in schools – What's my coaching like as a leader? Where can I go with this? What coaching model will we have? I also had the opportunity to visit a non-government setting, Hester Hornbrook Academy, who works with very disengaged students, getting them back into schooling, and it was great to see the set up there. And I was thinking about what our classroom spaces might look like in the new school. So, everything gives you sort of other ideas, and I really found that exciting.

And then to end, you know, I also took myself along to a panel discussion at University of Melbourne at the Graduate School of Education last week to hear a panel discuss the future of teaching, and that also made me think of various things. And it's good. I really love learning and I'm just trying to take the opportunity to hear about things and reflect on things that are occurring around me.

JE: It's great when you get inspired like that, isn't it? That's all for today then. Thanks for joining me again, Jo. I know you're busy. Next time [we'll] go back to building that School Mission and the Vision and the Values, so we'll get stuck into that. And I thought we could also have a chat about some of the designs and the logos that are linked into that. But, in the meantime, have a good month, won't you!

JC: Yep, thanks Jo.

Well, that’s all for this episode, thanks for listening. If you want to keep listening now, you can access almost 300 podcasts in the Teacher archives – you just head to, or wherever you get your podcasts from. Before you do that though, if you could do me a big favour first – leave a review; it helps people like you to find the podcast and it’s a good way to support the team, so thanks for that.

You’ve been listening to a podcast from Teacher, supported by Monash University. Listen to their ‘Let’s Talk Teaching’ podcast for valuable strategies and insights on the challenges teachers face today.

Other episodes in this series:

As a leader who’s hiring: How would you sell your school to prospective job applicants? What are 3 things you look for in a potential recruit?

As a teacher or leader applying for a new role: How much ‘homework’ do you do on the school before writing an application or attending an interview? Do you regularly check your referee details and contact numbers are up to date?