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The lack of IT talent is a problem for all organizations, but IT staffing challenges place an especially large burden on K-12 school systems.

Solving the IT staffing challenge in K-12 education


The lack of IT talent is a problem for all organizations, but it places an especially large burden on K-12 school systems

Key points:

Even in the best of times, K-12 school districts often have a tough time recruiting and retaining IT employees, as it can be hard for budget-conscious districts to offer salaries and benefits that are competitive with those in the private sector. This challenge is further magnified by low unemployment and the fact that private-sector businesses are also struggling to hire IT talent right now.

While labor shortages are finally easing in the wake of the pandemic, IT is an industry where employers are still scrambling for workers. According to USA Today, 62 percent of job openings in the information sector go unfilled every month.

The lack of IT talent is a problem for all organizations, but it places an especially large burden on K-12 school systems. The Consortium for School Networking’s annual “State of Edtech Leadership” survey reveals that 56 percent of districts are understaffed when it comes to supporting classroom technology use, and hiring and retaining skilled personnel is the second leading IT challenge among school systems, trailing only budget constraints.

To solve the IT staffing challenge, K-12 leaders will have to try many approaches. Obviously, creating a positive work environment characterized by trust, respect, teamwork, and open communication can help foster a sense of community and keep IT employees engaged and motivated. However, here are four other important strategies that can help.

Empower your IT staff.

As best-selling author Daniel Pink writes in his book Drive, having autonomy is a powerful motivator for employees. Establishing a framework in which IT employees have the ability to offer input on important projects, be creative in their role, and make decisions or solve problems on their own can make their jobs more rewarding, while encouraging them to take ownership of their role.

Provide opportunities for professional growth.

The opportunity to develop mastery is another strong incentive for employees, Pink observes. With technology changing so rapidly, IT personnel continually need to develop new skill sets. Yet, many school systems fail to provide adequate professional learning opportunities for their IT staff.

According to CoSN’s survey, only 33 percent of school systems provide in-person training for their IT employees—and even fewer (28 percent) provide online training. Most IT departments stay up to date on their own, with 78 percent saying they’re self-taught. One IT leader was quoted in the survey as saying: “I feel that I am not adequately trained to wear all the hats that I wear in our small school. I know I have weaknesses, and I fear that those weaknesses will hurt the district.”

Providing training and mentorship opportunities for your IT staff not only makes them more effective; it’s also an important recruitment and retention strategy. Giving your employees avenues for career advancement can help you attract and retain top IT talent as well.

Emphasize the mission.

Having a strong and inspiring sense of purpose is yet another motivating factor, Pink writes—and this is an area where K-12 school districts might have an edge over many private-sector organizations.

In working for your school system, IT employees play a key role in supporting the academic and social-emotional development of students. Highlighting this benefit during the hiring process, and repeatedly reminding employees how their efforts contribute to student success, can go a long way toward recruiting IT staff and keeping them happy and engaged.

Give IT employees tools to do their jobs efficiently.

An important aspect of creating a positive work environment is making sure employees aren’t overstressed or burning out because they have too much work to do and not enough time to accomplish it all. Yet, given the budget constraints that many school systems operate under, it seems like IT staff constantly have to do more with less.

Think about how you might leverage technology to streamline key processes and help IT employees do their jobs more efficiently. By using the right tools and platforms, you can ease the burden on IT staff and make it easier for them to manage their workloads.

For instance, software can help IT staff manage, configure, and deploy teacher and student devices from a single, centralized console; see at a glance how technology is being used for instruction; manage software licenses more effectively; and instantly reset user passwords as needed. What’s more, modern service desk technology can automate important ticketing workflows and direct users to a user-friendly self-service portal, further reducing the workload for K-12 IT employees.

Reducing the stress that IT employees face, creating a positive workplace environment, and empowering them with autonomy, mastery, and purpose are critical steps in helping them achieve success and improving staff recruitment and retention. Although this is a complex problem that will require a system-wide approach to solving it, these five strategies are a good place for K-12 leaders to start.

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