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Strategies for Hiring and Retaining K-12 Technology Staff

June 26, 2018 • Troy Bryant

working

School districts can’t offer all the money and perks Google and Apple can, but what can districts do to recruit and retain talented technology staff?

By understanding what motivates and drives today’s technology workers, districts can take steps to improve recruiting strategies and support retention of high-quality staff.

Technology is integral to all organizations across every industry, so it’s not unexpected to see the demand for IT talent is skyrocketing. Of course, with high demand comes even higher salaries. The average annual salary for a U.S. technology professional is $92,712, according to the 2018 Dice Tech Salary Report.

When comparing pay for some common technology positions in K-12 public schools in Texas to private sector (non-school) market salary values, there are substantial differences in compensation.

Job Title 2017–2018
TX K-12 School (median)
2017–2018 Non-School (median) Dollar Difference
Database Administrator $72,574 $89,756 $17,182
Systems Programmer (Entry Level) 61,537 74,895 13,358
Network Technician (hourly) 27.07 32.78 5.71
Computer Technician (hourly) 20.77 25.32 4.55

Texas school districts pay nearly 20 percent less than their non-school counterparts in the state for these positions. Because Texas is such a big state, pay among school districts also can vary based on location. For example, school districts in the Dallas, Edinburg, and Houston regional areas pay database administrators significantly more on average than the same role in the Austin, El Paso, and San Antonio areas, according to the 2017–2018 TASB HR Services Salary Survey.

ESC Region 2017–2018
K-12 School Database Administrator (median)
Region 1 (Edinburg) $81,731
Region 4 (Houston) 89,355
Region 10 (Richardson) 83,736
Region 13 (Austin) 70,063
Region 19 (El Paso) 69,521
Region 20 (San Antonio) 72,574

Recruiting technology staff

Market salary differences can make it difficult for public schools to get a strong pool of high-quality applicants. Fortunately, many technology workers currently are seeking new employment. While salary is the biggest catalyst in driving tech workers to change employers, it’s not the only factor they consider.

Reasons for changing employers

According to the 2018 Dice Tech salary survey, 42 percent of technology professionals anticipate changing employers in 2018 for these reasons:

  • 63 percent—higher compensation
  • 45 percent—better working conditions
  • 30 percent—more responsibility
  • 23 percent—anticipate losing current position
  • 16 percent—shorter commute
  • 13 percent—relocation
  • 13 percent—other reason

While districts may not be able to offer higher compensation than other employers, those that think creatively in their recruitment strategy can compete for talent in many of these other areas.

The 2017 Robert Half Technology Salary Guide identified the following incentives used to attract skilled technology professionals, in addition to competitive compensation:

  • Work-from-home arrangements
  • Opportunity to contribute to multiple projects
  • Ability to innovate
  • A clear path of career development

In addition, districts should look at their current hiring practices and remove any obstacles that inhibit recruiting in-demand technology jobs. Time and again organizations lose the recruiting battle for top talent simply because the hiring process is too lengthy or burdensome for the applicant.

While recruiting talent is important, districts should be just as (and maybe even more) concerned about engagement and retention of current employees. Turnover is costly and time-consuming. Organizations cannot rely simply on providing competitive salaries to keep employees from jumping ship. In fact, the Dice survey found only 52 percent of technology professionals were satisfied with their current salary.

Motivators provided by employers

Organizations are leaning more on other incentives to keep technology professionals. More than 70 percent of employers reported providing motivators to retain talent (compared to 53 percent in 2009), according to Dice. The primary motivators offered by employers in 2017 were:

  • 15 percent – increased compensation
  • 14 percent – flexible work location/telecommuting
  • 11 percent – flexible work hours
  • 10 percent – more interesting or challenging assignments
  • 3  percent – promotion or new title

Job perks

In addition to standard compensation and benefits packages, technology employees in today’s market look for unique incentives and perks. In our own recent research of job perks offered by technology companies in Texas, these are some more common ones (along with ways districts can incorporate them):

  • Telecommuting: Being flexible with location and work hours is a necessity for districts. It is a key component to employees’ happiness and it impacts work-life balance.
  • Work-life balance: While districts cannot offer excessive paid time off like some private sector companies, they can tout fewer annual work days and more manageable work hours than profit-driven companies.
  • Modern technology: Employees spend a lot of time at their desks, so districts that can equip work spaces with the latest hardware, software, and ergonomics, such as stand-up desks, can make employees happier and healthier.
  • Working conditions: There is a tangible difference of working in an education or school environment that is unique to districts. Some other factors that impact working conditions include:
    • Collegial relationships
    • IT leadership
    • School culture
    • Decision-making power
    • Facilities
    • Professional development
  • Recognition/Rewards: Districts that provide regular recognition of the IT team and its individual employees can make coming to work a fun and rewarding experience.
  • Wellness: Districts that can offer in-house wellness classes, free or discounted gym memberships, and health incentive plans not only keep pace with technology companies in the private sector but encourage healthier employees.
  • Dress code: Districts may not be able to go as far as allowing staff to wear t-shirts and flip flops, but casual dress in the summer or giving away specially designed t-shirts to IT staff can go a long way.
  • Food: While many technology companies have cafés with free food, on-site baristas, and juice bars, districts can encourage this important aspect of bringing staff together with food by catering meals for special occasions, or even partnering with a local food delivery service to come out on a regular basis.

Multigenerational workforce

There are five generations of employees in today’s workforce: Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z. Organizations also must customize their incentives and engagement to keep a diverse generational workforce happy. Important motivators for one generation may not be significant to another generation.

As an example, millennials (born between 1982 and 2004) have very unique professional goals and expectations. They want to give back to their community through their work. Public schools can connect to millennial employees and support retention by connecting the mission of public education. And, to add urgency to focusing on millennial retention, this group will make up 50 percent of our nation’s workforce by 2020 and 75 percent by 2025.

Getting to work

According to the TASB HR Services’ pay raise poll conducted in April 2018, pay increases in school districts are expected to stay flat for 2018–2019—a median 2 percent pay increase is anticipated for teachers and staff across the state. Meanwhile, the technology sector has experienced a strong run of growth, possibly widening that gap between school and non-school pay. Because of funding shortfalls, districts will have to be more nimble and creative in hiring and retaining technology staff.

Troy Bryant is the DataCentral manager for TASB HR Services. You can reach him at troy.bryant@tasb.org

Tagged: Recruiting, Retention