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Pinpointing reasons behind hiring trends in higher education

An image of students and lecturers with a green filter to represent trends in higher education.

College administrators have never had a tougher job to attract and retain staff. This ongoing trend in higher education shows that hiring teams need intelligence into why people are eschewing jobs in the sector.

A joint report from The Chronicle of Higher Education and recruitment firm Huron Consulting found that 84% of college hiring managers are finding it harder to recruit for administrative and staff positions. However, people analytics teams will be well aware of what’s happening. They need to learn why it’s happening to improve talent strategies.

To identify this, you need to analyze how people talk about jobs in colleges. Manually analyzing text data in this way is not only time consuming, it also introduces an element of human bias. This is where text analytics tools like the Relative Insight platform come into their own.

To demonstrate how, Relative Insight used a social listening tool to gather conversations about higher education jobs in both the US and UK in 2023. These text data sets amounted to almost one million words — making them impossible for a human to analyze efficiently. Relative Insight’s text analytics tool used the relative difference metric to quantify the topics, words, phrases, grammar and emotions more likely to appear in UK and US higher education hiring conversations within seconds.

We then identified the insights that explain trends in higher education staffing. Colleges in the US and UK have multiple areas to address to stand out to administrative staff and retain teaching specialists.

Identify trends in employee attraction and retention

US college hiring conversations reference vaccine mandates 15.0x more

Vaccine mandates were the key point of emphasis for US audiences in college hiring discussions. They used the phrase infinitely more, as well as talking about ‘vaccines’ 8.1x more and ‘mandates’ 39.8x more.

Overall, people in the US were 15.0x more likely to reference this topic in their conversations. Digging into verbatim messages illustrated that the continued presence of mandates was a real blocker for some.

Actual conversation at SD Community College… Employee: “How will I pay my mortgage if I am fired over vaccine mandates?” Chancellor Carlos Cortez: “How will I pay my mortgage if I repeal mandates?” The workers demand to know who is threatening the chancellor’s job @sdccd.

Honest question — with this in mind, how can you justify college and healthcare worker #covid19 vaccine mandates?

The precarious nature of teaching roles also featured prominently in Americans’ higher education conversations. They were 11.2x more likely to talk about ‘adjuncts’ — teaching staff who aren’t employed full time by a college.

This mode of employment is a developing trend in higher education. However, the verbatims highlighted that teaching staff felt insecure as adjuncts, as well as complaining that their pay didn’t reflect their level of qualification.

Address the adjunct crisis — these people have master’s degrees and make poverty wages. It’s not just public schools, but 70% of colleges that abuse these workers.

It’s wild that people put such high expectations into grad school and then universities staff the classes by just scouring alumni lists for people who might be hard up and willing to adjunct for $2,000.

Analysis of UK conversations came amid a backdrop of industrial action. With labor relations at the point where college employees are striking, it’s clear staff in these institutions are dissatisfied.

Similar to the US, UK college staff were concerned about the increasingly precarious nature of employment. However, rather than relating to teaching staff, these conversations focused on administrative staff. UK audiences talked about ‘casualization’ 20.8x more and were infinitely more likely to state they didn’t have ‘secure contracts’.

Casualization is rife, universities’ spending priorities are frequently misguided, and emphasizing this has brought staff out on strike and is forcing employers to make concessions.”

It’s also clear that layoffs are impacting the working environment. People in the UK were 26.3x more likely to mention ‘redundancies’, but it isn’t just job losses that staff highlight. Those who remain talk about their increased ‘workloads’ infinitely more.

Given this combination, it’s no surprise that British staff are more likely to express negative emotions. Their messages overindexed for ‘frustration’ (1.8x), ‘fear’ (1.3x), ‘sadness’ (1.5x) and ‘worry’ (1.8x).

Many of us are non-academic-related staff with unfair workloads due to staff retention and recruitment problems stemming from low pay.

This breakdown in relations has also removed ‘goodwill’ between staff and their employers. UK college employees talked about this 31.2x more.

Universities rely on goodwill and unpaid work by staff, but they repeatedly tell those staff that they are worthless and that they don’t value them at all, only their money and 4* publications. Why then should I bust my ass for an employer who will toss me aside in a heartbeat?

By analyzing almost one million words of online conversations, it’s clear that colleges in the US and the UK face deep-set hiring challenges. The higher education trends uncovered within these conversations can be reversed, but it’s not something that institutions can do overnight.

UK universities can improve retention rates by addressing a number of areas. The number one thing they need to do is rebuild trust with their existing and prospective employees. The loss of goodwill between both parties means that even if colleges do hire and retain staff, they’ll be in a loveless relationship, lacking motivation and looking for other jobs.

American colleges wanting to address hiring challenges could reassess how stringent their vaccination policies need to be now the pandemic has subsided. Their use of adjuncts to fill teaching positions is also impacting retention. Institutions whose business models allow them to take on more full-time lecturers, or pay their adjuncts more, will retain teaching staff more easily.

Understanding what issues grate most with employees is the first step in improving retention. The only way to determine this is through utilizing text data. Relative Insight’s text analysis tool enables you to efficiently identify themes and trends within employee feedback, enabling you to take action to retain staff. See for yourself by signing up for a free trial now.

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