Employment in the public education sector has rebounded, but educators still face an uncertain future
Over the past year, the financial hardship inflicted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has been felt in all corners of municipal government. In city and state schools, particularly colleges, technical schools and trade schools, the unexpected upheaval dampened an upward trend in job growth that has accelerated since the late 1990s. .
“The pandemic has placed an extraordinary burden on post-secondary education, from finance to workforce to technological issues,” said Gerald Young, senior research analyst at MissionSquare Research Institute, an organization that focuses on developing research to help governments manage the public workforce. Young is the author of a recently published research paper titled Post-Secondary Education Staff.
“Understanding the underlying structures and workforce needs of the wide range of employers in the education sector helps inform efforts to recruit and retain skilled employees, now and in the future,” did he declare.
Between January 1999 and January 2020, college and university staff grew by 51%, the report notes. But at the start of the pandemic, staffing levels suddenly fell by nearly 10%, with “the largest declines…in local government, post-secondary employment, and clerical and administrative support positions,” reads the report, which was compiled using research from the U.S. Public Service Workforce Organizational Snapshot released earlier this year. Notably, just over 40% of colleges reduced or stopped matching contributions to pension plans when the pandemic hit, the data shows.
Job losses for those working in public education have been particularly large, given the comparatively slower rate of growth in recent decades. Since 1999, local government education staff have increased by 15% and state staff by 27%. And from January to October 2020, locally funded positions saw an 8% decline; jobs in the state fell 13%.
A Pew Research report released in the spring noted that “public education layoffs increased 57% from 2019 to 2020; voluntary “resignations” increased by 16%; and “other” separations (including death, disability and retirement) increased by 53%. … A slowdown in hiring continues to explain a significant portion of job losses in public education.
Specifically, layoffs accounted for about a third of all jobs lost in public education last year, the report says: and slowing hiring accounted for the final third.
Between the layoffs and the sudden need to teach remotely, it’s been a tough season for many educators. But as the calendar turns to a new school year, there is reason for optimism: those lost local government education jobs are coming back.
According to the latest employment report from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the US economy added 943,000 in July, and the unemployment rate fell by half a point to 5.4%.
Government payrolls across the country added a total of 240,000 jobs during this period, including more than 220,000 in local education. By comparison, the private education sector added 40,000 jobs.
But with COVID-19 transmission rates rising daily, it’s unclear what will happen next, especially as the economic affliction of the pandemic has scrambled traditional employment patterns, making difficult to interpret the post-pandemic landscape.
“The fluctuations in education staffing due to the pandemic distorted normal seasonal patterns of hoarding and laying off, likely contributing to job gains in July,” the jobs report said. “Without the typical seasonal increases in employment earlier, there were fewer layoffs at the end of the school year, which led to job gains after seasonal adjustment. These variations make it more difficult to discern current employment trends in these education industries.
In his analysis, Young noted that before the pandemic, employment was expected to increase for most types of higher education and secondary schools through 2029, especially in local and private institutions (19 and 9% ). Junior colleges and public technical or trade schools are expected to decline.
But as the education sector takes a first step towards normality, it will return to a new normal and an uncertain future. Likewise, government and school administrators will need to remain flexible and adapt to a changing educational landscape.
“The pandemic has hurt revenue, staff and technology. Rather than simply going back to business as usual, it could prompt a strategic reassessment of how academics, administration, and professional training are structured,” de Young’s report states. This, in turn, could “foster experimentation around cost control, semester schedules, or hybrid in-person, online, interdisciplinary, or project-based programs.”