The great migration to education: why soaring numbers are making a career pivot into Education

The pandemic has caused many to re-evaluate what they want from their life and their career.

Some have experienced a pressing desire to do something positive in the world by helping people and giving back. Some want to leave the corporate world to focus on a career that directly makes a difference to lives. Some parents want a job that is more in line with their children’s holidays.

Following a year dogged by uncertainty, many now want a job that offers stability and is future-proof. And, although parents across the world were overjoyed to send their children back to school, some were inspired by the home schooling they had done to pursue teaching, childcare or early years education as a career.  All this has contributed to a rise in people making a career change into Education, something that WaveTrackR data has shown in the high levels of applications received by recruiters in the sector and reports by education and childcare firms. We investigate what it means for the industry and whether this represents a permanent trend and an end to shortages in the Education sector or a short term fix.

Soaring applications from corporate backgrounds

WaveTrackR data detailed in the Recruitment Trends: Lockdown Report revealed that both jobs and applications grew over the course of 2020 whilst many other industries shrank. The sector has remained amongst the five industries receiving the highest numbers of applications ever since and March data has shown applications to have increased by 10% compared to February.

The Guardian spoke to early years initiative tiney (created by teacher trainee provider Teach First) who had seen applications soar in 2020, from 4,672 applications in the 10 months leading to lockdown to 21,345 applications in the 12 months from March 2020. Furthermore, over half of the applicants had no previous childcare or education experience and 35% had been working in corporate jobs, way up from pre-pandemic levels. Now Teach, a charitable organisation that focuses on training career changers in shortage subjects, reported a 70% increase in applications per month between March and May 2020 and three times as many applications in October and November 2020 compared with the same months in 2019.  

Line graph with education jobs and applications over 2020
Education jobs and applications distribution over 2020 – Annual Report 2021

Life and career reassessments 

Why? Anecdotal evidence suggests that many applicants have re-assessed what they want to achieve from their careers and the thought, when restrictions are lifted, of returning to their old routines of dull commutes, long hours in an office and corporate politics was simply not appealing. For some it has also highlighted the fact that what they enjoyed about their jobs were the office perks, banter with colleagues, perhaps the events they attended. Take that all away and the job itself wasn’t engaging or rewarding.

The pandemic made many realise they wanted to do something more fulfilling and education is the perfect route to that. After home schooling or caring for their own children during lockdown, many also have a new found respect for teachers, realising the level of skill it takes and also the importance of it. Educating, engaging and developing the next generation is a rewarding occupation. And becoming a teacher after having business experience within relevant industries can be valuable as teachers can ground their teaching in the real world and bring a fresh perspective to their students. 

Retention is key

Will this surge in applications in the Education industry mean an end to historic skills shortages? The announcement of public sector pay freezes coupled with an incredibly difficult year for teachers and school staff may prompt a wave of current educators pivoting the other way, into alternative industries.

It is hugely encouraging that so many want to make a career change into the Education sector but retention now needs to be a focus. A DFE report into teacher recruitment and retention strategies found that improved teacher retention will rely on better work conditions, including a reduced workload and a more supportive culture, increased support for newly qualified teachers, flexible working options and a focus on ensuring teaching remains an attractive career as lifestyles change. If Education can capitalise on the increased interest in teaching jobs by making these changes and tackling the retention problem, the shortages it has been dogged by for years could decrease. It’s a big ‘if’ but there is huge potential for real and important change here.

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