Hiring Practices: Understanding What Millennials and Gen Z Want

Curriculum has been overhauled to align with the needs of today’s students. Admission challenges have become more complex because of rising costs and declining numbers of school-age children, specifically from families able to pay full tuition. And technology has transformed the entire educational landscape. Shifting societal forces—economic, technological, political, and demographic—have changed the independent school landscape for some time, but one aspect of schools seems to be stuck in the past: the hiring process.
Hiring in many independent schools continues much as it did 20 years ago. A position opens; the school posts a job description on its website or in the NAIS Career Center. A search agency might do the vetting; résumés are collected and reviewed. There are initial interviews, and then finalists visit campus. If a position is offered, it is generally close in line with the one being filled, taking on the subject areas and responsibilities the departing faculty member oversaw. The new contract might include concrete points but is often vague with phrases such as “at the discretion of the head of school” or “and any other responsibilities that may arise.” The new hire comes to campus a week or two before the start of faculty meetings and has an “orientation.” Does this archaic progression of hiring sound familiar?
Applying institutional decades-old hiring philosophies and practices will not meet the emerging realities of 2018. If schools are to deliver the best education for their students, one in line with their missions, hiring practices must be viewed as institutionally important. They must also take into consideration the new generation of employees—particularly in the millennial and Generation Z cohorts. Understanding how younger workers see the world and their careers is critical for schools that want to recruit, hire, and keep top candidates.

Facing Today’s Realities

Millennials, those born between 1981 and 1997, and Gen Z, which comes after them, will replace a large percentage of the workforce as retirement among boomers continues to accelerate. Millennials will make up the largest cohort of workers, an estimated 73 million by 2019, and thus surpassing the boomer generation. According to a recent Deloitte Millennial Survey, there are several key mindsets to know about this age group.
They want and need flexibility. The rise of the “Gig Economy” increases the fluidity of careers, and the ability to “design your own job” in a time and place that fits the employee. Younger workers stay fewer than three years in any one job, according to the survey, and four-day work weeks and work-from-home options have become mainstream. But independent schools as structured, particularly at boarding schools, have been slow to support this flexibility because of rigid systems, differing views regarding employment, and the concrete reality. As part of a session I led at the 2017 TABS Conference, attendees were surveyed about their use of and views about the triple-threat model (teacher, coach, dorm parent) at their respective schools. Ninety-two percent of respondents agreed that changing views regarding work-life balance is making hiring more difficult.
They have multiple degrees and massive student loans. With low unemployment rates, highly qualified teaching candidates have job options both in and out of education. As many independent schools face enrollment challenges, there’s greater pressure on schools to hire educators with advanced degrees and competencies that align with a luxury product. Parents now expect experts, with degrees from the top 50 universities, specialized certifications, high-level sport or artistic accomplishments, and cutting-edge understanding of pedagogy.
As a result, schools may be hiring educators who expect more from their employer and employment. These generations are the most educated yet and have the most college loan debt. And at independent schools, compensation, which is very important to these groups, has not grown in line with cost of living increases or with the salaries outside of education. According to NAIS data, the median salary for all independent school teachers stands at about $60,000 per year, with starting salaries averaging $40,000 per year. While these numbers are higher than the national mean and median, most independent school teachers are expected to hold advanced degrees, separating them from the nearly 60 percent of the American population that doesn’t hold college degrees, according to the Lumina Foundation, and from 80 percent of the population that doesn’t hold advanced degrees. Independent school educators exceed the national averages for educational attainment by a large margin, yet they do not see salary increases that mirror those standards.
They want workplace culture and diversity. Also important to members of these age cohorts is a workplace that values their input and makes them feel connected to their school’s mission and values. Diversity, another key driver for these age groups, has always been a challenge in independent school leadership and is becoming more pressing. With more diversity among these groups, they want a more diverse and inclusive workplace.

The New Best Practices

Challenges abound in hiring at independent schools, and yet the hiring practices of schools are not generally aligned with the demands and expectations of younger employees. What are schools doing to connect hiring and staffing with today’s challenges?
Heads of school who are willing to engage younger workers while continuing to meet the demands and missions of individual schools will drive most of the change. They must be flexible and innovative in staffing practices to maximize the skills and talents of younger generations in a way that does not stress an organization or alienate older workers.
Some schools are engaging in faculty culture or faculty equity studies to redefine what positions look like and how employees are compensated. These schools are identifying trends that are aligned with the rising generational cohorts, resulting in shuffling schedules, modified salary scales, the sun-setting of programs to make room for new ideas, and rotated leadership positions that give new employees more say within the school.
Others are actively modifying staffing practices to meet the demands of employees and to reduce faculty attrition. Some schools offer free daycare, while others allow opt-out options for residential or coaching duties in return for increased duties elsewhere or a salary reduction. Some are even offering home down-payment assistance, fully funding graduate work, and allowing for sabbaticals after five years.
Meanwhile, other schools are pushing back, taking the view that millennials and Gen Z workers need to change; it’s a tactic doomed to fail as it has in the corporate arena, with Sears being the most recent example of an aversion to change. By continuing to hire through the lens of what worked 20 years ago, schools will find it harder to hire and retain younger workers. Pedagogy has changed significantly in recent years, admission continues to evolve to meet market demands, and fundraising continues to look toward innovative ways of engaging donors, so why would hiring not follow the same path of change?
Greg Martin
Greg Martin

Greg Martin is the Upper School Dean at Perkiomen School in Pennsburg, Pennsylvania, and has been a triple-threat educator in boarding schools since 1996.


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