New Deakin University research has reaffirmed the importance of employers investing in professional development (PD) for staff, writes Emily Campbell.
The joint report by Deakin University’s educational management company DeakinCo. and Deloitte Access Economics, found that every $1 invested in Learning and Development (L&D) per employee is associated with an additional $4.70 in business revenue per employee, on average.
Beyond the obvious financial benefits, investment in PD drives productivity, increases loyalty, staff retention and allows companies to tackle major challenges like rapid digitalisation and skill gaps, the authors wrote.
DeakinCo. CEO Glenn Campbell said measuring the value and performance had been a guessing game for organisations for too long.
“Investing in PD leads to better staff retention, and in the context of the major skills shortages Australia is currently experiencing, this is an obvious opportunity for businesses who are wanting to retain talent and tackle skills gaps.”
Although businesses from a range of different industries and regions across Australia were surveyed for the report, the findings are relevant to the non-government education sector.
Some of the key findings from the research include:
• Leading L&D organisations reported an average attrition rate of 14 percent compared to almost 25 percent for organisations at the other end of the spectrum – 1.8 times greater.
• 87 percent of businesses in Australia could do more to improve their L&D, with just 13 percent of businesses found to be leaders in the space.
• 74 percent of businesses agree L&D became more of an organisational priority due to COVID-19.
• Investment in L&D is growing, with businesses expecting the amount of training to increase by 19 percent on average this year compared to pre-COVID levels.
PD essential for modern schools
Independent Education Union (IEU) Acting Federal Secretary Christine Cooper said the provision of professional learning and development for all school staff was crucial.
“In a context of constant change and pressure to meet growing social and economic expectations, teachers, support staff and other education staff must be equipped to provide quality education for the students in their care,” Cooper said.
“A crucial factor in ensuring the quality of education provision is the maintenance of a highly skilled workforce in our schools.
“IEU members deserve the right to professional learning which meets their needs and equips them with the knowledge, skills and attitude necessary to perform their jobs.
“Professional learning and development should also assist employees to reach their full potential as education professionals and as human beings,” she said.
Ms Cooper said professional learning is a lifelong process which aims to develop, sustain and extend professional knowledge and competencies of staff.
“The IEU has always known the value of professional development to our members and we have advocated for the increased provision of quality PD for all school staff.
“Many segments of our membership have problems in common like staff shortages and unsustainable workload, issues which would be helped enormously by employers’ investment in PD.
“It’s a simple and sensible solution to major problems faced by schools and early childhood education centres across Australia.
“The viability of the entire education sector would be improved with reduced staff attrition, increased revenue and decreased workload for teachers,” she said.
Professionalisation of support staff
Allowing non-teaching staff, including school officers and support staff, increased access to PD would have substantial benefits for schools, students and the wider education community.
IEU-QNT Research Officer Dr Adele Schmidt said issues raised by IEU members regarding the Nationally Consistent Collection of Data (NCCD) program were a clear example of the benefits increased PD for school officers would give their teaching colleagues.
“Teachers’ capacity to do their core front-facing work, which is being in a classroom with students and preparing to be in that classroom teaching students, is being corrupted by the push down of all these additional NCCD requirements employers are demanding,” Dr Schmidt said.
“The IEU has been made aware of situations where teachers are standing in front of a photocopier uploading verification certificates and duplications of evidence for students, which is certainly not the best use of a teacher’s time.
“Teachers need to be liberated back to their core work of preparing resources, programs and unit plans from the curriculum they can take into the classrooms and work with students.
“PD has never been more important in schools, because schools need to build a workforce that extends beyond teachers and relieves them of their burdensome workloads.
“Solving the problems associated with increased workload involves a professionalisation of the school officer workforce and ensuring school officers have access to a wide variety of PD and learning opportunities to grow in, and grow with, their role,” she said.
School officers deserve better access
Although the number varies between states and territories, Australian teachers are required to complete a minimum amount of professional development every year, as part of their registration.
Because school officers do not have compulsory minimum PD requirements, they tend to receive substantially less opportunity to undertake PD than their teacher colleagues, which can negatively impact career progression.
IEU-QNT Branch Executive member and Chapter Representative Annette Gregory is employed as a laboratory technician at Ignatius Park College, and said she feels lucky compared to some of her school officer colleagues in other streams.
“Schools rarely provide or find PD for school officers, it’s usually the school officers who find the PD and request to attend,” Annette said.
“I’m fortunate in two ways; my employer has always been very supportive of the PD I request to attend and as a lab tech there are many relevant PD opportunities available during the year.”
Annette said lab technicians in schools can access PD through their membership of professional organisations and associations such as Queensland Education Science Technicians (QEST) other state bodies and universities.
“Many science suppliers offer PD too, and all of these are valuable because of the complex knowledge and tasks we are called upon to use.”
Teacher aides feel neglected
However, Annette said teacher aides often feel neglected in terms of access to PD.
“PD for teacher aides is very rarely provided by the employer, and most teacher aides don’t think to find their own PD, they expect it to be found for them,” she said.
“School officers working in the office, library, tuckshop and other areas rarely get access to PD, unless they work in a professional role such as accountant/business manager where those professions have an association.
“Students are pushed to do VET courses and are given the time to do them, yet the VET courses such as Cert III Education Support or Cert III Business Administration courses are something employers could suggest staff undertake.”
Annette believes employers should invest in more PD for support staff, which would upskill staff, boost employee morale and increase professional respect and recognition of school officers.
“I feel that provision of PD for staff shows respect for the role an individual performs and demonstrates the employer is committed to assisting staff with their personal development,” she said.
“Support staff in specialist roles are not only assisting teachers, but teaching the teacher, providing them with new knowledge, skills and practices.
“For example, the number of students with a disability is increasing and therefore teacher aide assistance is being sought more frequently.
“Students undertaking ATAR subjects are also needing more input from specialist staff in their quest to aim high, and the uptake of VET courses in senior school is requiring hands-on assistance from trade qualified support staff.
“Every time I go to a PD, I come back to work enthused by the new ideas, wanting to share them, try them, use them,” Annette said.
Greater investment in PD for education staff, particularly school support staff, will undoubtedly help to counteract the challenges faced by the education profession.
It is time for school employers to acknowledge this and begin to take action for meaningful change by improving access to PD and ensuring it is an organisational priority.
IEU members should take advantage of free PD sessions and workshops provided by the union for members.
Visit your branch website to find out more.