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Thinking of becoming a teacher? These are the top skills employers are looking for

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 16 August 2022

Golo Henseke and Shunyu Yang.

Excellent, highly skilled teachers are crucial for quality education – as this year’s round of exam results highlight once again. However, while the critical role of teachers on student outcomes has received a great deal of attention, less is known about how schools design teacher jobs and what skills they seek to enable excellent teaching.

This blog is the first post in a two-part series on the teaching profession, drawing on a large number of job adverts between 2012 and 2020. This first post looks at skills requirements in teacher vacancies, how they have changed since 2012, and how they relate to pay.

The analysis shows: First, skills requirements rose. Second, softs have become more important. Third, in 2020, employers would pay a premium for specialist expertise, people-management and cognitive skills – but IT skills were not highly valued, despite most teaching going online during the pandemic.

The English school system has changed substantially in the last decade, spurred by policy reforms (academisation, teacher pay and recruitment standards, declining state funding) and in response to long-term trends and challenges (economic inequality, mass expansion of tertiary education). Covid-19 exacerbated existing difficulties and highlighted systemic disparities in how well schools were able to teach remotely, introduce support measures, and care for all of their students equally.

Current study

We have looked at more than a million online job adverts for teaching positions since 2012 in the UK to understand changing skill requirements. The data were gathered and prepared for analysis by Lightcast (formerly EMSI Burning Glass). Lightcast uses industry-leading algorithms to collect, de-duplicate and process job vacancies from online vacancy boards for further research.

The data can cast a light on employment and changing skill requirements, especially in professional jobs where the data display acceptable levels of representativeness.

Teachers are defined based on occupation codes. This post examines vacancies for Teaching and Educational Professionals (except Higher Education Teaching Professionals) and Teaching Assistants.

About half of the postings include an expected pay range, which we used to calculate the ‘price’ employers are willing to pay for different job skills.

Results

Across teacher job adverts in 2022, the most frequently listed skill requirements were:

    1. Teaching: the ability to give someone knowledge or to train someone
    2. Communication Skills: the ability to effectively convey or share ideas and feelings.
    3. Creativity: the use of imagination or original ideas to create something
    4. English: the use of English skills in listening, speaking, reading, and writing
    5. Planning: the ability to help individuals develop strategies to accomplish goals
    6. Teamwork/ Collaboration: the ability to work together in a group with other people well
    7. Organisational Skills: the ability to use time, energy, resource, etc., effectively so that one can achieve their goals.
    8. Child Care: the ability to care for and supervise one or multiple children at a time
    9. Research: the ability to carry out a systematic investigation into and study of materials and sources to establish facts and reach new conclusions
    10. People Management: ability to organise employees and build teams to optimise business performance

Most of these skills are not surprising:  teaching, high-level social skills, organisational skills, and cognitive skills are essential requirements for teaching. Perhaps noteworthy, skills related to the productive use of digital technologies were not mentioned in the top list, although teaching had to be rapidly moved online in 2020.

To examine skills demand and its changes across jobs and over time, we grouped job skills into broader categories using slightly tweaked keywords from this study. Figure 1 displays the profession’s cognitive, social, character, people management, and digital skill requirements between 2012 and 2020.

Figure 1: Teacher job skills in 2012 and 2020

Note: Percentage of job adverts with at least one skill associated with a composite. Source: Lightcast UK job vacancy database 2012 and 2020. Own calculations.

The cognitive skill composite combines job skills related to problem-solving, research, analysis, thinking, maths, decision-making, and creativity. The percentage of teacher vacancies mentioning at least one of these skills rose from 14% to 19 % between 2012 and 2020.

Social skills were required in a quarter of jobs in 2020, almost ten percentage points above the 2012 value. The composite comprises communication, teamwork, collaboration, negotiation, or presentation. We did not include teaching or care in this definition to focus on skills around work organisation.

An increasing percentage of teacher job adverts also require character traits around self-planning and resilience, such as being organised, detail-oriented, multitasking, time management, meeting deadlines, or being energetic.

The percentage of teacher vacancies requiring people management skills increased from 14 to 16 per cent between 2012 and 2020. People management refers to leadership, supervising, motivating, or directing people within schools.

Requirements around computer use rose slightly but remained overall infrequent and uncommon. The composite comprises basic computer literacy, the productive use of various Microsoft software products, and social media.

Specialist knowledge refers to industry-specific or subject-specific knowledge requirements. The percentage of teacher job adverts with those fell slightly from 15% to 13 %.

The figures suggest a rapidly changing profession: Firstly, the overall skill requirements in the profession went up, which might have contributed to the intensification of what was already highly intensive work. Secondly, the job skill mix moved towards soft skills (social, character) and cognitive skill requirements.

Examining the relationship of job skills requirements with pay provides another way to look at the relative value school leadership places on teacher skills. Figure 2 displays pay differences associated with cognitive skills, social skills, character, people management skills, computer skills, and specialist knowledge.

Figure 2: Job skills pay premia for teachers in 2020

Note: Estimates adjusted for average job skills requirements by occupation and year, differences across years, seasonal differences across UK regions, industry, degree and work experience requirements. Source: Lightcast UK job vacancy database 2020.

Applicants could expect higher pay offers if schools searched for candidates with cognitive, people management or specialist knowledge. They would expect below-average pay offers for teacher jobs requiring computer skills or soft skills (social skills, character traits).

Conclusions

This blog demonstrates the use of job vacancy data in tracking changing skills demand for teachers. We find that teaching, high-level social, organisational, and cognitive skills are essential in the profession.

The relevance of cognitive, social, and organisational skills expressed in character qualities has grown since 2012. The changes have potential implication for teacher training.

However, soft skills were associated with a pay penalty, whereas cognitive, people management and specialist knowledge predicted above-average pay offers.

The infrequent use of basic computer skills in 2020 job adverts is striking. If true, it suggests that the switch to online teaching was delivered in a context where employers neither sought nor rewarded IT skills.

This work was supported by the Economic and Social Research Council [ES/T014768/1].

 

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