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To Improve IT Talent Retention & Recruitment, School Districts Must Tackle These 5 Critical Challenges

by iSphere on February 21, 2024 in Blog, Education Sector Content, Education Technology Solutions

Here’s a stat for you: Edtech spending is increasing by over 25% every year. That’s no big surprise as school districts across the United States continue to integrate digital solutions into curriculums and operations. Yet as the need for this educational technology increases, there has been an inverted trend for states and municipalities to cut educational budgets.

We’re seeing that tendency take root in Texas. A combination of steady inflation and stagnant education funds (despite recent state-level budgetary surpluses) are forcing Texas independent school districts to reduce, cut, or rethink IT projects and staff. And the Lone Star state isn’t the exception. Schools nationwide are facing a funding cliff as supplementary money from federal agencies are expiring.

Though school districts are sailing against the wind, they’re not without options. We’ve written about sources and strategies for schools to fund their IT projects as well as hosted a webinar where Texas education leaders shared their challenges and tactics for stretching tech budgets.

An area where many K-12 districts need help is attracting and retaining IT professionals. For districts looking to fully embrace digital transformation, here are the challenges you need to keep on your radar and some solutions that can overcome these pressing IT staffing challenges.

1. Rising Competition for IT Talent

Demand for tech talent keeps hitting record highs. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates IT job growth to expand faster than the average through 2032. In this landscape, budgetary constraints will curtail districts’ abilities to offer competitive compensation packages—especially when contending against the private sector.

We’re specifically seeing this challenge in cities with booming or even emerging tech hubs. In Texas, the thriving local tech scene offers a large talent pool while also creating an atmosphere of fierce competition. Dallas, Houston, and Austin metro areas are amongst the top 15 metro areas for tech job growth, presenting the challenge of a large local talent pool that is often out of reach because of high-paying private sector opportunities.

Though school districts lack the capital to go toe to toe with tech companies and major corporations, there are ways in which schools can overcome IT recruitment challenges by emphasizing their unique benefits.

For instance, work schedules often follow district calendars, which means employees may get extensive holidays and breaks off compared to the private sector. Additionally, schools often offer a range of competitive benefits around healthcare, insurance, and pensions to support health and financial wellbeing in the long run.

Though wages are not on par with the top in the tech industry, schools rarely experience the layoffs of other sectors, making compensation consistent.

2. Growing IT Skills Gaps

There’s not only a growing need for people in the field, but for those tech professionals to command an ever-expanding set of technical skills. An EY survey finds that 81% of organizations are experiencing a skilled tech worker shortage, but what’s also concerning is that 28% report that their current staff are falling behind. Respondents indicated that they need to help one third of their existing talent base revamp their tech skills by 2025 to keep up with market demands.

In the education sector, closing this gap is critical—Karen Fuller, iSphere’s Director of Technology Innovation, explains one of many reasons why:

 

Innovative candidate sourcing techniques can support IT recruitment efforts.

For example, Lamar Consolidated Independent School District (CISD) called upon the iSphere team to help them advance the technology infrastructure of their growing district with a student IT contractor program. They were struggling to provide on-campus tech support to their burgeoning student base and needed personnel to handle routine tasks like device maintenance, user support, and equipment deployments.

Lamar CISD decided to hire alumni and students from their career and technology programs, partnering with the iSphere team source and screen the best candidates from the batch. After hiring these student IT contractors, the district was able handle urgent matters, prepare for district growth, and promote the growth of Texas’ future IT workforce.

By leveraging these pre-existing connections with students and alumni, districts can stand out in the recruitment process while strengthening IT talent retention. How many other organizations or industries can boast a direct IT candidate pipeline like this?

3. Limited Professional Development Opportunities

Continuous learning is paramount in the rapidly evolving IT field. Technologies, methodologies, and tools are constantly changing, making it crucial for IT professionals to stay abreast of the latest developments. However, there’s not always a formal structure for tech workers to refine their skills.

For school districts, offering professional development opportunities can also serve as a key differentiator—68% of workers would stay with an employer throughout their career if they actively supported their upskilling.

Ongoing training could also reduce the impact of the growing IT skills gap in years to come. However, tight budgets and limited resources have increased the difficulty of offering continuous learning perks—especially in districts where professional development for teachers is prioritized.

Professional development initiatives don’t have to be costly. Mentorship programs—in which seasoned IT staff are paired with newer recruits—can foster knowledge transfer and professional growth.

Districts can also establish partnerships with other districts or service centers to cultivate a culture of knowledge sharing, provide onsite workshops, and lower the shared cost of training programs. By tapping into external expertise, school districts can enrich the skill sets of their existing IT personnel, boosting employee satisfaction, while attracting new candidates.

4. High Burnout Rates

Turnover rates have skyrocketed across the education sector in recent years, causing staffing shortages across virtually all district functions. Continuous attrition hinders the continuity and success of technology initiatives—and for IT employees who stay, heavy workloads become a norm.

As worker burnout continues to hit record highs, the increasing burden on district IT personnel—who are tasked with maintaining and troubleshooting complex technology infrastructures, often on tight budgets and timelines—is certainly a concern. The impact of this heavy workload on job satisfaction and IT talent retention cannot be understated.

Improving workplace culture can be a valuable solution for school districts. As mentioned in the above Lamar CISD story, hiring cost-effective resources to handle everyday issues can free up experienced IT staff to focus on bigger and more complex challenges.

Additionally, acknowledging the importance of IT professionals’ contributions is critical for their job satisfaction and morale. Formal awards like Employee of the Month recognitions can further motivate employees.

Fostering a culture of collaboration can also promote a sense of purpose and belonging for IT talent. Encourage staff members, including those outside of the IT department, to provide mutual support—perhaps by building cross-functional teams for upcoming projects—and develop a more vibrant, engaged IT workforce.

5. Remote Work Options

More often these days, IT professionals are leaving school districts for the option to work outside the office. Tech workers increasingly want remote job opportunities, and we are witnessing many K-12 districts fall behind the trend. Even though the education sector is reluctant to implement this benefit, their workforce isn’t hesitating to leave for positions that let them work remotely.

For tech professionals, the appeal is clear. They can increase their quality of life, better balance work and home obligations, and regain an hour or more each day when eliminating their commute. By working remotely, IT professionals are also expanding their earning power, as private companies on the East Coast and West Coast offer higher compensation rates.

Though administrators and HR professionals might worry about the fairness of allowing members from only one department to regularly work from home, the stakes are different. Unlike teachers or other staff members, tech workers are actively being recruited by the private sector. If school districts continue to treat their IT staff as if the competition is the same, they’ll continue to lose them.

Get Support for Your IT Talent Retention & Recruitment

Attracting and retaining IT talent is more difficult than ever—especially for school districts facing significant budget cuts, increased workloads, and hefty skills gaps.

When you work with an experienced IT consulting and staffing firm like iSphere, you can unlock an expansive tech talent pool for your district while gaining support from experienced recruiters in the education sector. Our team gets to know your district’s recruitment and retention needs to provide tailored solutions that enable a future of success.

Want to learn how we can help you find and retain hard-working tech talent? Read about our contributions to Lamar CISD.

 

 

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