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What can we do to attract industry professionals to classroom teaching – Opinion

Many students, particularly in less advantaged locations, are not being taught by qualified science and mathematics teachers. Addressing this long-standing  issue has been a priority for governments because of declining student performance, poor student engagement and the significance of building a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) skilled workforce to meet global challenges. 

Recruiting industry professionals from STEM backgrounds in classrooms can be a key mechanism to meet student and future workforce needs. These mid-career entrants have qualifications and experience working in STEM roles, which gives them the ability to connect lesson concepts with their practical applications.

Real-world examples and own experiences from their previous roles are also effectively used by these professionals. Such strategies not only add unique and rich insights to classroom teaching but can also contribute to sparking student interest and enthusiasm in pursuing STEM.

Previous research on mid-career entrants also shows that they possess intrinsic qualities of self-confidence, maturity, commitment, creativity, and passion as well as technological and entrepreneurial skills gathered from previous careers and life experience. It is clear that that mid-career entrants from STEM backgrounds have a lot to offer the teaching profession. 

But we do not know enough about what attracts this cohort to teaching and what can we do to engage and retain them in the profession. 

In our recent literature review, we identified some of the barriers and solutions to make the teaching profession attractive to industry professionals, including any policies required to create a pipeline from industry to teaching. A systematic strategy of gathering evidence from academic and grey literature (such as government reports) was conducted and a total of 140 studies were included in the review. Here is a summary of our findings. 

What works to recruit, engage and retain industry professionals into teaching?

  • Competitive salaries 

That teacher salaries be made competitive to match other comparable professions, and to address the loss in remuneration for STEM specialists switching to teaching.

  • Valuing teaching

That the status of the profession be raised within industry and society more broadly to promote teaching as an attractive career option.

  • Recognition

That STEM expertise and industry experiences of aspirant teachers be properly assessed and credentialed, to count towards long term successful career pathways in schools.

  • Flexibility

That flexible study and work conditions with tailored opportunities for personal and professional growth be offered for STEM career changers to thrive and succeed.

  • Reduced administrative burden

That administrative workload be reduced for industry professionals to focus on providing students with stimulating practice-based learning opportunities. 

  • Targeted recruitment campaigns

That campaigns be more tailored to increase diversity in the teaching profession – attract women, Indigenous and Cultural and Linguistic Diverse (CALD) people from STEM backgrounds. 

  • Leverage existing school-industry partnerships

That existing school-industry STEM partnerships be effectively leveraged to identify prospective career changers interested in pursuing a teaching career.  

Our findings resonate with recent discussions on improving teacher shortages and making the profession attractive. Mid-career entrants share the same concerns as the rest of their peers and provide similar solutions. However, because they enter the profession at a later stage in their career, typically with family and employment responsibilities, their varying priorities, needs and circumstances need to be well-understood by schools and jurisdictions. 

The time is now

Every student must have access to qualified science and mathematics teachers who can engage, inspire, and ignite an entrepreneurial mindset and empower students to own their future. A diverse teaching cohort contributes to creating an inclusive and equitable education for all. Industry professionals from STEM backgrounds can be part of the solution. We recommend governments and policy makers also consider a long-term systemic approach to address supply-demand issues in STEM subjects: one that promotes teaching as an intellectually satisfying and financially rewarding career. 

Dr Meera Varadharajan is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Social Impact, University of New South Wales. 

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