Solving the Higher Ed Workforce Dilemma

man in suit, sitting at a desk with his head propped on his hand looking tired and frustrated

For the longest time, colleges and universities didn’t struggle to build their higher ed workforce. This mission-driven sector attracted like-minded individuals who shared a passion for academia and a desire to inspire positive change with their work. Additionally, tenured positions came with long-term research opportunities, offering more job security than other industries. However, these circumstances have recently changed.

Higher Ed Workforce Challenges

The COVID-19 recession forced post-secondary institutions to lay off employees as a cost measure. A section of employees also left on their own volition, citing stress, burnout, and health and safety concerns. 

But even with the situation stabilizing and colleges lifting recruitment freezes, institutions couldn’t meet their higher ed workforce needs. A 2022 survey by the Chronicle of Higher Education suggests that 84% of colleges and universities struggled to fill staff and administrative positions the previous year. Moreover, 79% of institutions reported more job vacancies than in the past year, with positions taking longer to fill than before the pandemic.

Per The CUPA-HR 2022 Higher Education Employee Retention Survey, 57% of higher education employees were likely to seek better-paying jobs. Baby boomers, who constitute a large percentage of the higher ed workforce, are also set to retire in the near future, worsening the staffing crisis. That’s not to mention the competition from the private sector which offers attractive salaries and perks. 

Countering the Higher Ed Workforce Crisis

Higher education salaries may not match other sectors, but institutions can still attract candidates with the following offerings. 

Work Flexibility

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, 64% of institutions offer hybrid arrangements to support both virtual and in-person working. By creating time for childcare and other personal responsibilities, a hybrid culture improves work-life balance for a happier workforce. Employees can also customize their workspace to reduce distractions and maximize comfort and productivity.

Here’s how to optimize hybrid working:

  • Enhance productivity with communication, data backup, training, and task management software. 
  • Allow employees to customize their schedules, prioritizing output over hours.
  • Provide wellness support.
  • Organize regular meetings and team-building activities to foster collaboration and a sense of belonging.
  • Create hybrid workspaces for employees who choose to work from campus.
  • Implement performance metrics to maintain high work standards.

Greater Focus On Employee Retention

An institution’s retention rates depend on its responsiveness to workforce demands. For instance, colleges can offer tuition reimbursement, retention bonuses, professional development opportunities, and other perks to boost employee morale.

Staff involvement also matters—this is when employees have a say in work-related decisions.

It sheds light on employee needs and how institutions can improve the well-being of their workforce. You can engage employees during meetings or use surveys, feedback management platforms, and suggestion boxes to gather employee views.

Incorporate Succession Planning When Hiring

Succession planning improves the internal capacity to fill vacant positions when they arise. However, more younger people are avoiding higher ed careers—according to CUPA-HR, 3 out of 10 employees in colleges and universities are 55 years and above. In the coming years, these employees will hit retirement age, leaving institutions with all the knowledge they acquired throughout their careers. 

Although you can search externally for qualified candidates, you preserve more of the institution’s culture when older employees train the younger generation. Succession planning is also cost-effective since you don’t depend on external training resources.   

Employee Benefits

The following staffing practices give you an edge in the recruitment market.

  • Better salaries: Even if they don’t match the private sector’s wages and salaries, higher ed institutions should offer more competitive packages to attract and retain qualified candidates. You may not afford permanent increments, but you can motivate employees with one-time bonuses. You can also provide non-monetary benefits like childcare services, transportation assistance, more paid time off, healthcare plans, and team-building activities 
  • Training and development: Training not only prepares employees for current roles, it also equips them for future ones. Similarly, professional development demonstrates your commitment to an individual’s well-being, not just the institution’s profits. Candidates are more likely to accept job offers when you provide clear pathways for career advancement.
  • Collaboration: From interdepartmental projects to industry conferences and community engagement, collaboration benefits the higher ed workforce in various ways. For starters, partnerships reveal an employee’s talents for effective work placement. It also enhances resource allocation to reduce costs and redundancies. Additionally, employees work toward common goals, boosting morale through a sense of shared responsibility. It’s also easier to solve problems as a team, reducing the effect of individual mistakes.
  • Diversity and inclusion: A past Glassdoor survey reveals that diversity is a priority for 76% of job seekers. Diversity isn’t just about harmonizing race, gender, and age; it also incorporates different skill sets, thought processes, and beliefs. Besides legal compliance, diversity and inclusion create happier employees to reduce turnover and improve the institution’s reputation.

Another benefit is financial performance. According to a past McKinsey study, gender-diverse management teams have a greater chance of generating above-average profits. There are several ways to build an inclusive workforce. For starters, maintain a diverse recruitment panel, training interviewers to identify their personal biases.

You should also share your diversity and inclusion efforts with the public, being transparent about your goals and progress to ensure accountability. This is in addition to streamlining feedback channels and enforcing anti-harassment policies to build trust among existing and potential employees.

Solving the Higher Ed Hiring Dilemma With Talent Communities

These communities nurture professionals with common interests and skills for your institution’s ongoing talent needs. You can tailor talent communities to specific disciplines for faster recruitment and better targeting. Here’s how institutions can benefit from talent communities:

  • Access to a diverse candidate pool
  • Networking opportunities between potential candidates and recruiters
  • Proactive rather than reactive hiring processes, ensuring access to the right candidates when openings arise
  • Enhanced employer branding
  • Data-driven recruitment, with direct feedback from talent communities
  • Access to high-quality candidates who understand your institution’s culture

We Can Help

We offer contingent workforce management solutions for all your needs, from specialized skills to diversity initiatives and customized talent communities. Solve your higher ed workforce dilemma once and for all. Contact nextSource today to streamline your recruitment processes and gain insights into the management of external workforces. 

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