Field Trip: Not Your Father’s Labor Market
Teachers entering the workforce today are different from those who entered the profession a few decades ago: the perception of teaching as a career has changed. Millennials starting their careers have different priorities from those in other generations. And in many areas of the country, competition is fierce for qualified teachers.
In this episode, we speak with Jennifer Duvall, Human Resources Director at Corvallis School District in Oregon. Throughout the interview, she shares:
- What changes they have seen in the labor market
- How they audited their hiring practices and the changes they made to promote their district and attract quality teachers
- Why word-of-mouth, quick response times, and exceptional customer service from their Human Resources department are all vital in the hiring process
Field Guide: Recruiting Millennial Teachers
Men and women in their 20’s and 30’s are making up an ever-increasing portion of the workforce. Are you fully prepared to attract them to your school or district? In this field guide, you’ll learn how to effectively market your job openings to prospective teachers, and strategies for enriching your applicant pool through online recruiting. Download it today!
Today on Field Trip, we’re headed to Oregon. About an hour and a half south of Portland, in fact. Our story is about what it takes to find teachers in a competitive job market.
JENNIFER DUVALL: People want to feel like… they want to be wanted. So it’s not us just waiting for the application, it’s “the market is tight,” and so we need to be on the front end because we’re competing with a lot of other districts as well.
We’re looking at how teachers entering the workforce today are often different from those who started their careers 20, 30, or even 40 years ago, and what it means for schools who are trying to hire them.
JENNIFER DUVALL: I think we often get ingrained in our ways of doing things and either think we’re doing a fabulous job, which so often we’re doing good things, but to have someone else be able to point out, and in our case the biggest piece was, “You’re not telling your story.”
It’s the podcast for leaders in K-12. From Frontline Education, you’re listening to Field Trip.
Corvallis School District is a medium-sized district, at least for Oregon – 13 schools, around 6,700 students, about 850 employees.
JENNIFER DUVALL: We are about an hour’s drive from the ocean. We are a couple of hours from the mountains and we’re in between a couple of large cities.
That’s our guest today – Jennifer Duvall, Human Resources Director at Corvallis. And she said, you know, it’s a great place to work.
JENNIFER DUVALL: We have this really community, family, college town feel as we have Oregon State University here in town as well. We’ve got a very supportive population of families for education as we’ve been fortunate to have some levees and some bonds passed to support our schools. Our staff is highly educated and very dedicated to our students. So I feel very fortunate to be a part of the Corvallis school district.
When I spoke with Jennifer, I asked her to share what drives her. What energizes her, working in HR in a school district?
JENNIFER DUVALL: I myself did not want to be a teacher. I want to support those who have that skillset, and we have amazing staff. It’s so exciting to be able to go into a classroom and see some of the things that our staff are doing or to be in conversation, to watch them work with the kids. That’s what makes me excited about this work, is that I get to be a part of helping them do that work with students.
And that’s actually what we’re here to talk about today. We’re talking about the important work of making sure that classrooms have teachers. It’s something we’ve covered before on this podcast with topics like the nationwide teacher shortage. What has your experience at Corvallis been with this?
JENNIFER DUVALL: We’ve been a fortunate district in that we have a strong reputation in our state as a place staff and educators want to come to Corvallis and be a part of our district. And a lot of that, again, is based on the community support, the staff, the work we’re doing. We’re usually kind of in the front end of doing things here in our district.
That strong reputation Corvallis has is key — and we’re going to look at that more a bit later. But Jennifer said just relying on that isn’t enough. When they post open positions, start looking for teachers to fill them, they still receive a fair number of applications. But that number has started to decline.
JENNIFER DUVALL: I would say over the last few years, coming out of the recession, we had a period where teachers were leaving Oregon to find jobs. And with also the new generations coming in, realizing we can’t necessarily rely on our laurels and need to start looking at how we are doing things in our hiring process so that we can make sure that people still are looking to us, but also how are we going out and doing the recruiting.
What are the things you’re seeing in the labor market now? What do you think are the reasons for the changes that you’re seeing?
JENNIFER DUVALL: I do think, one, it’s sort of the generation. It’s a new way of… I know we talk a lot about millennials and we have the others coming in, but in regards to when people first were going into teaching, you would get to a district and you’d stay for your whole career, and we’re not necessarily seeing that anymore. They’re coming, maybe they’re staying for a few years. So it’s looking at, “Is there a way, one, for them to stay longer?” Also, they tend to move around for a variety of reasons. Again, being a college town, another thing that we’re seeing is, maybe young single individuals coming aren’t necessarily staying here to find a significant other, they’re maybe needing to go to a larger city.
Corvallis also has positions that are harder to fill than others – bilingual teaching positions, for example. And then there are other factors… Oregon gets a lot of rain, so Jennifer said that can be tough for people who are moving from another state. But that generational issue, as older teachers retire and more younger teachers take their place… it’s not something you can ignore. I asked Jennifer what she has observed as millennials enter the profession.
JENNIFER DUVALL: Well, I think there’s a lot of things that I would say we’re still trying to figure out a little bit. We’re seeing that millennials tend to maybe move job to job, they’re not staying in as we’re used to from some of our other generations as long. Part of it, they’re looking more for that balance. Teaching, this is a hard profession, and you’re giving a lot of hours into this and sometimes that doesn’t necessarily work for what they’re wanting. I’d also say flexibility in… traditionally in education, we’re stuck with a traditional school year calendar, and sometimes I think we’re seeing this new generation wanting to be able to have more flexibility and take time off more during other times, not just the summer. And we actually need teachers in the classroom during those key times. I think there’s a few different things in regards to that.
All of these things make it harder to attract teachers – for a lot of school districts. So Jennifer and her team at Corvallis realized they needed to be proactive in their hiring practices. They couldn’t just do the same things they’d always done in the past. They began with an audit of their hiring practices. And to do that well, they needed some fresh eyes. So for the audit, they worked with Frontline Education.
JENNIFER DUVALL: We spent probably a good half day to almost a full day where they would ask questions about everything from our process to how do we recruit. What does our calendar look like? Where do we put priorities? Looking at our budget, asking about our experience, looking at our website. How is our application? Is it easy to use, is it easy to find? We even went over to one of our classrooms. We have an elementary school next to us here at the district office and we went and had a conversation with one of our new hires in the kindergarten class, and they were able to ask them questions about “why Corvallis?” And from that, a lot of excitement came out: we’re probably not doing the best job in telling her story of how great Corvallis is. We’re here, we know it, but they really heard that loud and clear from our new teachers.
I think we often get ingrained in our ways of doing things and either think we’re doing a fabulous job, which so often we’re doing good things, but to have someone else be able to point out, and in our case the biggest piece was, “you’re not telling your story.” We know it, we live it, but we weren’t sharing that out with the world, for example. And so that piece was something to celebrate. Also looking at, if you’re not comfortable with something, you tend to avoid it. So for me, social media is not my life. And so I needed to be pushed a little bit more on why this is important. I needed to have some of that information and data, and also some ideas of how we could utilize it.
Coming out of that audit, after you spent those several days, looking at your processes and looking at how you’re presenting your district, what was the result? What did you come away saying, ‘We really need to do a, b, and c about this”?
JENNIFER DUVALL: Right. Well, what was great is not only did they take the time to really understand our current process and do some research both in talking with folks here, but then in looking at our website and comparison, they came back to us with some recommendations and broke it down into, “Here are some quick wins for you, here are some maybe longer term and here are some even longer term that you might want to consider in making some of those changes.” And so some of the quick wins were, one, you need to celebrate your story. And we talked to that teacher and I also shared, we recently did a staff engagement survey, where 98 percent of our staff who completed it were proud to be a school district employee, but we weren’t sharing that anywhere. And so if we could start really utilizing that, that would be helpful. Making some changes on our website, how easy it is to find, how to find a job, being able to get to the application.
Those were quick wins. And the next thing, Jennifer said, was looking at how they utilize social media to really tell their story — especially how many staff members are proud to work at Corvallis. 98%? That’s huge!
JENNIFER DUVALL: I think we knew it was probably high, but that was an incredible percentage that we were extremely proud of. And again, I think it’s the support of staff. It’s the supportive of our community and really supporting the education system as a whole here, that people do feel like a family. And that I continue to hear over and over, whether it is through my conversations with the new teachers, the new teacher they interviewed talked about family, and the families wrap around our staff and are supportive, one another wrap around and are supportive. We are just kind of a small community family in our district itself.
So they wanted to get this community sharing what it’s like to work at Corvallis with their followers, and hopefully reach people who were interested in going into teaching.
JENNIFER DUVALL: I was thinking we needed to use some sites that… we actually weren’t getting any, I’m not quite sure of the term, but I guess we weren’t really getting any hits from. So LinkedIn was something we were going to spend quite a bit of time in trying to get our presence up-to-date. We actually, through the audit, found that that’s not where people are looking at us from. And so we needed to look at some other sites and put our activity through our Facebook, through our Twitter accounts. And then also, they highlighted for us a few key folks in our district who have a lot of followers on social media. And so those would be key people to tap into and they gave us some ideas of how we can create a message and ask them to share it out and get them to be followers of the district, and so we can tap into that and get them excited. So recognizing that’s one where people are always on their phones, on their computers and that’s how people are getting information now, and even applicants. So they’re looking to those different sites, and we need to leverage that where we haven’t necessarily in the past.
So as we look at those quick wins, the changes you’re making on your website, what are the kinds of things that you looked at and said, “Oh, we need to change this about our site in order to be more attractive to applicants?”
JENNIFER DUVALL: Well, it’s looking at how many clicks does it take to find if you have jobs openings? And so we are moving to have a button on the very front page of our district website that says “Job Opportunities.” So they’re not having to search, either through the search engine or going to Human Resources and finding a few layers to find that. We’re also looking at wanting to tell our story: it’s that people are proud to be a part of our district, and so really getting that on the front end and we actually are working with one of our high schools that has a video class to do videos of some of our teachers to say why they love being a part of Corvallis and having some snippets, so it really makes that story real and we can celebrate our staff in regards to that and share that with individuals who are looking to our district.
Jennifer said they also do more than simply try to distribute information. They actively seek out people who they believe could be a good fit for their district. They use Frontline’s Proactive Recruiting to identify qualified candidates, and then they reach out and invite them to apply.
Jennifer Duvall: People want to feel like… they want to be wanted. So it’s not us just waiting for the application. It’s “the market is tight,” and so we need to be on the front end because we’re competing with a lot of other districts as well. So that’s one piece. When someone gets a message to say, “Hey, we’re interested in you,” that makes people feel good, and so they might spend a little bit more time taking a look at you. So that proactive piece is, they may have tapped on your website, but now we can take that to the next step and say, “Hey, we saw you are interested, we’d be interested in having that conversation,” and start that engagement process in looking at the district.
And she said, the speed with which they respond to applicants matters. A lot.
JENNIFER DUVALL: I’m starting to look at how I can use the data to make a difference in our candidate experience. So once they do apply and are working with our administrators, just trying to make some changes in that part of our process, looking at — and again we learned this through our audit — the piece about, an individual applies to your position. They don’t want to sit and wait forever before they hear. People are used to that immediate response, right, and so we’re needing to make sure we’re paying attention to that. Now I will have data in front of me that says how long it’s taken us to be able to follow up with an individual. I can use that with my administrators to say, “This is why this is important. We need to do these things because we actually aren’t sitting and waiting for people. We need to be a part of that process.”
Because people will say, “Well, it’s taking so long. I’m going to look elsewhere”?
JENNIFER DUVALL: Absolutely, and again, with a tight labor market, you’ve got that piece, but I think also the generation is so used to that instant response. They want to know that you’re paying attention and you have some interest, or they’re moving on. It’s kind of that swipe right, swipe left sort of idea a little bit. And again, administrators, they’re focused on their school and are in the classrooms. So it’s my job to be able to help them understand why these are important and to be able to utilize the tools we have to help them with it.
The direction Corvallis is going – finding ways to share their story, whether it’s on social media or through word of mouth, as we’re going to see in a minute, and being incredibly responsive with applicants… it’s working.
MARTHA CALDERON: Certainly, so I am a school social worker—
That’s Martha Calderon, she recently joined the staff at Corvallis. She fell in love with their story.
MARTHA CALDERON: —I have been a school social worker for the past five years now and I just happened to work with a former principal who, when she came from the other district, moved over to Corvallis, and she told me about a position in and she said, “You would fit right in, you would be perfect for this.”
When I studied a little bit what Corvallis does and what is it that they believe in and their model and the way they do things, that enticed me, actually, to be honest, because their approach is extremely all about equity, all about inclusion, not a one size fits all type of model, but really working with the students, with the personnel that they bring in. Yeah, so it’s been, actually, an eyeopener for me because I did not believe that this could be possible at a school district, I mean, let alone anywhere else, but at a school district? Whoa! Their approach was awesome.
And I asked Martha what it was like when she applied. And she said it was obvious that the HR department at Corvallis went above and beyond to make it easy to apply and go through the process.
MARTHA CALDERON: Another thing that was interesting was that I was actually away on vacation in Chicago and we were doing a lot of this via Google Hangouts or through the Internet, and one of the things that they made it easy enough to where the individual that I was working with walked me through the process, because as you know, everybody has their way, the way they do their technology or the applications that they use and I was able to apply.
I mean, it was… within 24 hours, it was back and forth, back and forth. So within a week I had already made up my mind. I had already closed the deal. They had already closed the deal, and they made it really smooth. They did. Again, they were not shying away from any questions that I had. They would come back… any questions I had regarding benefits or pay scale or position and the way that I wanted my title to be, we went back and forth, and it was immediate. I would say within 24 hours. There was a point in time when my phone broke as things would happen, and so I was struggling to communicate with them and they were so gracious and just willing to wait for that process to happen.
Okay, back to Jennifer.
So what does it look like to convince the administrators of the importance of what you’re doing, and how are you going about rolling this out district-wide and not simply in your department?
JENNIFER DUVALL: So after we did the audit, I was able to take some of the information that they provided us in regards to the data and share it with our administrators and be able to talk with them during our spring staffing/hiring season to say, “We’re going to make some changes and here is why.” For them to understand the “why” when they know hiring is one of the most important things they do, that often it can feel a little bit like a task, is to give them some of that information and also let them know that we’re here to support and we’re here to help them through each of those steps. And here’s what that’s going to look like. And as we go further into this, I’ll have even more data to be able to say, “Okay, so we agreed to this” or we decided, but we’re not quite holding up to that, and so let’s figure out how we can fix that and make it better.
On the other side of that, what I could share with you is we have started doing what we call a new hire survey. So now we have our individuals on board. We send a survey out to them about a month once they’ve been in the classroom, and we asked them, how the process? How was the hiring process? And we break it down because we want that feedback to know from their experience what that felt like, what that looked like, what support they need. And that data has also been helpful, then, to go back to our administrators to say, “We might need to do some more work on our onboarding from this level, maybe at the building level.” And so just this last year, we created some additional time at a building level for them to be onboarded and have an orientation. And that was based on feedback we got from the survey, so I think the data really helps them understand why we need to make some of these changes versus just, “HR is saying it.”
So it’s been close to a year since you did this audit, since you started taking these steps to more actively market your district and connect with candidates. What have you been hearing so far? What have you learned since you began?
JENNIFER DUVALL: Right. So I checked in with a few of our teachers, not just through the survey but through a one on one conversation, to get a sense of what the things we were paying attention to were making a difference. And a big part of that was the candidate experience. I think often, as a district… sometimes, again, we would either rely on our laurels or we didn’t focus as much on their experience. And in talking with a couple of my new teachers, one thing I heard is they appreciated the communication and the timeliness of the communication. And that was an important piece we were really working on. We didn’t want them sitting and waiting. The other piece was just how kind and supportive every person they talked to was. It didn’t feel like they were just, whether it was a number, that people were willing to answer questions to follow up with them. And then, that family feel of the district. And again, that was sort of the piece we heard through the audit that we weren’t always, I guess sharing, is that family and being a part of this community is really a big deal.
Jennifer heard this over and over again, in each one of these conversations she had with teachers. And she said that it emphasized their need, as an HR department, to provide exceptional customer service to their applicants.
JENNIFER DUVALL: When you have a good experience, you tend to come back. When you don’t, you’re sharing that with people and it doesn’t feel very good. And so we really need to be the ones who model that in our district. And also it’s important, we want to feel that way. So we pay attention to that and are just very mindful in our actions of how we’re doing that with the candidates, working with our administrators, trying to help them understand. If they’re overwhelmed, how can we help in trying to do that? Again, just being there and I think being available, and that timeliness is important to us.
If you were to go back to a year ago and start over, what would you do differently this time around?
JENNIFER DUVALL: I would like to see us a little bit further in, based on some of the recommendations. But I also have to bring people along. And so if I go too fast and I don’t take the time to bring them along to get the information right, then it’s not going to work very well. In the end, bottom line is, it’s how are people feeling in the process, again, both for our staff but also our candidates, and I feel like we’ve done a really good job on that piece based on the feedback we’re getting. But time always gets in our way. So I always would like to get more done sooner.
We’ve been speaking with Jennifer Duvall, the Human Resources Director at Corvallis School District in Oregon. Jennifer, thank you for taking the time to talk with us today.
JENNIFER DUVALL: Thank you, and thank you for letting us share our story.
Does your school system have trouble filling all of its vacancies for teaching positions? If so, take a moment and check out our field guide to recruiting millennial teachers. You’ll read about key characteristics of this generation, how to effectively market your school district to prospective teachers, and strategies for enriching your applicant pool through online recruiting. It’s on our website — visit theFrontline Education Resource Center.
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Field Trip is a podcast from Frontline Education, home of Frontline Recruiting & Hiring, which includes applicant tracking, screening assessments, and proactive recruiting. It’s a software solution designed to help you bring in more applicants, and quickly identify the best candidates and get them up to speed. For more information, visit FrontlineEducation.com.
For Frontline Education, I’m Ryan Estes. Thanks for listening, and have a great day.