Can entrepreneurs help to solve Australia’s teacher shortage crisis?

Can entrepreneurs help to solve Australia’s teacher shortage crisis?

With Australia’s population – one of the most culturally diverse and fastest growing globally – tipped to reach 29 million by 2032, education experts say a cultural shift and moves to future-proof education are required now, more than ever.

On top of this, the worsening teacher shortage is placing extreme pressure on existing educators, driving a range of symptoms like turnover, and psychological injury and toxic cultures for staff. Schools are desperate to find a solution to the continuing exodus of staff, persistent wellbeing and reputation challenges, and declining student outcome measures.

Studies have shown that widespread entrepreneurship education can enable students to hone their future-proof skills and start creating innovation in long dormant sectors of the market. Not surprisingly, having an entrepreneurial mindset can also be hugely advantageous for teachers and leaders.

Below, Fleur Johnston, CEO of PeopleBench, tells The Educator how an entrepreneurial mindset, together with the use of data science and technology-enabled processes for workforce strategy, can position school leaders to make workforce decisions that improve outcomes for their students.

TE: In what ways can entrepreneurs be part of the solution to solve our teacher shortage crisis?

An entrepreneurial mindset is one that is comfortable with the generation of new ideas and ongoing iteration – using data to inform whether desired outcomes are being achieved or not, and then either ditching an idea that’s not producing the results you were looking for, pouring fuel on an idea if it is working, or enjoying the thrill of building/discovering something you had no idea was needed but seems to be based on the positive results of your experiment! I think this is where entrepreneurialism is so crucial in education: a sector that is traditionally reluctant to significantly change the way it is “doing” education and, as a consequence, a sector where many of the jobs in schools do not enjoy the flexibility, autonomy, or professional growth opportunities that so many other sectors have evolved to offer. Thinking differently about how we design the way schools “do” education and what this means for job design, recruitment processes, flexible work practices, professional diversity, culture, and the range of other factors that young people (and folks of all ages now!) look for when they are making choices about future careers, will be mandatory if we want to turn the supply ship around.

TE: Are there any examples you can point to of this idea working in practice/being successful? If so, can you share one or two of them for our readers?

At PeopleBench, we’ve been working with schools and systems of schools who recognise that they can’t keep doing things the way they’ve always done them if they want to secure a sustainable supply of high quality teachers into the future, retain the teachers they already have, and ensure that everyone working in schools is thriving personally and professionally—so that they can be their most impactful when they are working with students.

To help with these challenges, since 2017, we have been co-designing technology enabled solutions to help school and system leaders to improve their visibility on the aspects of their school workforce that need most attention, and then make it really easy to know what to do to make things better. For example, our Workforce Resilience TrackerTM is an innovative tool in use in schools in Australia and the United States that is giving school leaders critical insight into staff wellbeing. There is no one-size-fits all wellbeing solution, and schools have very limited time and resources to focus on this problem. The Resilience Tracker maintains staff confidentiality and anonymity while giving school leaders visibility of important metrics to help shape their workforce strategy, generally, and their wellbeing initiatives, in particular. A second example is our Workforce Strategy BuilderTM, which uses the data from HR and other staff systems, and then leverages technology to helps non-HR folks in schools produce a Workforce Strategy document, which becomes the road-map for taking action on a whole range of workforce challenges and helps with staff and community engagement in how we make our schools great places to work (as well as to learn).

TE: What are some useful takeaways for principals who wish to leverage the entrepreneurial mindset and culture in their schools to help retain their teachers (and attract new ones)?

The main takeaway is about being creative in problem solving. Look to how other complex, human-centered, community impact sectors have innovated as workplaces and think about how those ideas might apply in schools. Challenge the old assumptions about how we “do” schooling and think about what that means for the design of teacher’s roles, or new roles that might need to exist. Lean into data-led decision making for your workforce, not just teaching and learning. Track the success of workplace initiatives and look at new ways to approach old challenges. Adopting an entrepreneurial mindset in a social impact setting is all about running experiments to make the world a better place. Doing this in schools is our best hope to attract, retain, and enable the highest impact of the teachers we need in schools everywhere across the world.