September 2016, Vol. 1

Education field struggles to attract millennials

There are 80 million multi-tasking, tech-savvy, social-media-loving adults born between 1982 and 2004 that we commonly refer to as millennials. This unique generation will make up 50 percent of our nation’s workforce by 2020 and 75 percent by 2025.

Research from the Center for Talent Innovation shows 85 percent of millennials believe it's important to give back to their community through their work. Teaching is one of the more benevolent career options to pursue, yet millennials are not entering the education workforce at any promising rate.

The prestige factor

Currently, the education field is being filled in large part with the bottom two-thirds of each graduating class. The top third—the highest achieving college students—don’t consider teaching to be a profession worth pursuing.

Third Way, a Washington, D.C-based public policy think tank, surveyed high-achieving undergraduate students and found that 50 percent of these students believe teaching has become less prestigious in the last few years.

Most respondents consider education as one of the easiest majors and see it as a profession that average students choose. Consequently, one of the primary problems the field faces is determining how it can attract the over-achieving, motivated, and ambitious millennials.

Lagging behind

Generally speaking, the teaching profession—and more specifically, its pay structures and retirement systems—have not changed much in more than 40 years. These systems no longer meet the needs of new graduates, and they appear to be driving high-achieving millennials into other professions that have more innovative practices.

For example, nursing, law, and medicine have changed in how employees are trained, promoted and compensated. Education has not matched the efforts of its competing sectors, effectively pushing away high-achieving millennials and allowing for mediocrity in a profession that requires eminently talented individuals.

Millennial teachers want to be paid and promoted like other professionals. They look for programs like student loan relief and portable retirement programs that don’t require 10 years of service to benefit from.

Professional growth and development

Many millennials are looking for careers that provide vertical growth and opportunities to improve and learn. Some perceive careers in education as providing limited chances for career advancement. Those who want to leave the classroom and advance to the administrative ranks feel promotions only come to those with the most years of experience rather than the most qualified.

For the teachers who want to stay in the classroom, both financial and professional opportunities are lacking—and they often feel as if their ideas and opinions are ignored. While other 21st century professionals enjoy the freedom to grow within their careers at a pace based on their abilities and performance, teachers are still expected to wait their turn for meaningful advancement opportunities.

Individual districts can address these concerns by recruiting the best teacher for a position, encouraging qualified teachers to seek administrative promotions. For teachers who want to remain in the classroom, giving them the ability to take on more responsibility within their school, like coaching and mentoring new teachers, would be equally as effective.

Teaching is often seen as a stable career, but millennials want more out of their careers than a steady paycheck. They want to invest time acquiring the skills and knowledge they need to grow both personally and professionally. They support the idea that a career doesn’t stop after accepting a job offer. 

According to a recent Forbes article, approximately 65 percent of surveyed college graduates stated that the most influential factor in their current job was the opportunity for career development. Forbes reported that the best training programs are rich learning experiences that tap into employee interests, passions, and career goals. Millennials want coaches who will help them grow and succeed.

A survey by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) found that less than half of new teachers rated their teacher prep and training as very good, with 33 percent feeling unprepared for the first day of school. To address this, districts and even principals could offer better mentoring programs. 

Performance-based rewards

Many policies blindly treat teachers as interchangeable pieces. The ability to recruit, prepare, and retain high-quality public school teachers requires updating existing practices. In recent years, as many as 99 percent of teachers received satisfactory annual reviews. This demonstrates a disregard for teacher quality and shows that almost all teachers are treated as equally valued, regardless of aptitude, effort, and success. While this system may have been acceptable to previous generations of educators, millennials are not drawn to a profession that willingly turns a blind eye to lower quality and ignores top performers.

As T-TESS rolls out, Texas districts have the opportunity to meet the needs of millennials seeking encouragement and coaching. The teaching profession must adapt as millennials flood into the workforce. Districts should look for other opportunities to update practices for the recruitment, retention, and compensation of teachers, which pay dividends in both the short and long term.