Solving the continuing staffing shortage in Edu IT

Published by Matt Setchell on

I wrote a post a few years ago on the fact there is a staffing crisis in edu IT – and I think the situation has only got worse since I wrote that post.

In fact, I’d say we are now at crisis point, thanks to the pandemic, the explosion in edu tech deployment, and the change in skill set required – combined with the ever present lack of funding and investment in staff and lure of commercial roles promising, and paying, more then edu can achieve.

The way forward for schools is cloud, and so, this adoption of cloud infrastructure and management, as well as support – is a huge shift for those who are used to on-prem – especially many now working on bigger estates with the academies agenda – it’s certainly not just another windows upgrade or a new wifi standard.

Management of devices in the cloud is about scale and accessibility. It’s a use anywhere, anytime, any device solution that is blurring the boundaries between managed devices and used devices.

For example, this summer we have seen for the first time no windows to bring back devices for updates within a holiday, or to cut services availability for works – because these systems are now full year platforms. and many don’t access using a device we control.

When we now go to fix issues – these tend to be issues affecting multiple users, potentially in different scenarios, and fixes need to be planned and deployed at scale, not just per user or per device. Setups need to be interchangeable and independent of users or device or even connectivity.

As you’d expect, I am still very much a fan of the centralised service, delivered by an MSP – this certainly helps investment in specialised experts, and higher tiered support on a shared cost basis. But it also brings experience that can help you avoid mistakes or hours researching when solutions are already available.

The reason why MSPs work, is that previous experience and those connections they can gain by working at such a scale.

The problem when it comes to recruitment is simple:

  • Experienced technicians are lured out to companies for better pay and conditions
  • Long term employees are resistant to change due to lack of investment in their training and well-being over the years
  • New employees are expected to be experts straight away in such a complex set of emerging tech that they are easily overwhelmed with little support

In addition, even at MSP level we need to:

  • Invest, despite no increase in customer spending on IT support, in capacity to allow learning to take place to fill the gaps of outdated courses or limited use apprenticeships (the tech is moving too fast for classroom learning, on the job is ideal – but that needs newbies to be additional capacity, and therefore not generating an income whilst they learn the ropes on the job). Too many are seen as cheap labour by schools and trusts to fit jobs that used to be paid more, to do less.
  • Attempt to standardise solutions to simplify training and delivery of support – but this is difficult to achieve across a large customer base with limited finances or will to move.

So what’s the answer? There isn’t an easy one – but we can’t keep employing those eager people, even with experience and not provide time and expertise to develop them.

Even if we do that, without funding to do this, we won’t keep them in edu tech – we are paying to train people for industry.

And without funding, and the capacity and expertise to deliver the environment needed – our best people will be covering everyone, plus doing their job, and will then leave as the pay isn’t worth it.

This is not just true for MSPs, trusts are struggling on the same areas. They’ve increased the demand, but not the conditions and funding.

Individual schools are struggling to retain, and often spend more outsourcing projects then they would by integrating their technicians with additional wrap around capacity from a MSP, even worse, moving forward is not attempted due to lack of experience and support, or – and this is a huge risk – it goes wrong and looses any positive impact and sets us all back.

What we have to do, MSPs, Trusts, schools is work together to provide these resources and understand the impact of what we can achieve when we prioritise adoption, availability, integrations and experiences for staff and students using edutech, once that value is appreciated and proved, investment will slowly follow.

This means understanding the different types of support and realising it’s not a one size fit, but everyone needs to wear clothes.

For example, sharing of best practices and experience is the best type of training and development. Teachers observe lessons, attend training and partner with other schools to develop and evaluate their skills – why don’t we do this for edu tech staff? Why is getting external support seen as cheating or bad? Bad experiences? No experiences? Pressure?

I don’t have all the answers, but staff growth and retention is incredibly important, and I’m going to do all I can to improve it, and luckily I’m part of a team already focusing on it in every decision we make.

Categories: Blog