Say Hello To Your New Sub.

Jim O'Halloran

Insights | December 17, 2020

If you find yourself these days “turning over rocks” to fill absences, you’re not alone. A persistent teacher shortage coupled with the gig economy, and now heightened by COVID-19 has left almost every K12 district in the United States scrambling to fill absences with qualified substitutes. 

Borrowing a page from Marketing 101 or any episode of CSI, districts that are looking to increase their fill rates might think about the adage “Know Your Audience” — or in this case “Know Your Subs.” Like a persistent detective, as we begin to understand what makes today’s substitutes tick, we get closer to developing staffing strategies that can connect better with them. 

Imagine Your Ideal Substitute

A persona exercise often involves the creation of several potential profiles that embody the characteristics of the people you’re trying to find, delving into what motivates them, what they care about, and respond to. 

A fun way to jump-start a persona is to imagine some potential subs that exemplify your local roster, based on real or fictional people. Who are your super subs, what characteristics do they share? Who might you like to have in your pool? In the sections below, we’ve imagined “Mikayla,” “Pauline,” and “Ruben” who may sound like people you may know. As you dive into some profiles for your own district, and start to see insights or commonalities arise, you might find a golden “aha” hidden in the rough.

Clues from the Gig Economy

According to Wikipedia, 36% of U.S. workers are currently participating in the gig economy through either their primary or secondary jobs. Brilliantly marrying millennial trends with superb technology, companies like Uber and Lyft have helped this flexible workspace explode, and it’s not going away anytime soon. What can we learn from their examples and how might modern K12 edtech help bring these workers into the substitute fold? 

Gig workers tend to:

  • Be working multiple jobs.
  • Use mobile technology – apps and text – to manage work.
  • Need flexibility in schedules.
  • Prize independence and want choice.
  • Like being paid when they work.

 

Sub Profile 1: Mikayla

26, finishing her degree online, works several jobs with variable availability, can’t always respond to a yes/no robocall even though she has her cell phone with her 24/7, needs enough information about the opportunity in order to accept.

 

So how do you go about attracting people like Mikayla? It’s clear that mobile messaging capability is a must-have, with enough variation in both schedule and job opportunities so that she can choose whether to accept the assignment or not based on what else she has going on. 

Understanding the Generation Shift

Over the last decade, HR professionals had already been grappling with the phenomenon known as the “silver tsunami” — the Baby Boom generation aging out of the workplace, coupled with fewer of the younger population available to fill those openings. And then COVID-19 happened, plunging K12 fill rates even further. The dependable “super sub” pool of former teachers and retirees, feeling vulnerable to the pandemic, are voluntarily taking themselves out of the game.

 

Sub Profile 2: Pauline

64, downsized retail executive, moved back to hometown from New York, substitutes in order to stay active and involved in the community. Uses tech, but not fluently. Wants lots of information about assignments, more likely to turn down non-ideal school atmosphere. 

 

Particularly now, districts need an efficient method to distribute clear information about COVID-19 protocol to assure the older generations that it’s safe to work. A great messaging strategy will also include friendlier, more explanatory information such as lesson plans, curriculum, and atmosphere, so that people who work because they want to, not necessarily because they have to, can get excited about accepting an assignment. Incorporating even more courtesies about navigating to the school location and offering extra assistance with using technology tools could also be a win for this group.

Forward-thinking districts can also develop more ways to keep these super-subs in the working pool even after retirement age by offering specialty training and socialization or networking opportunities on site. 

Growing your Own Sub Pool

So now that you’re thinking more about who today’s subs are, where are you going to find more of them? Already many former education requirements are being relaxed, allowing districts to cast a broader net into their communities. Some creative ideas we’ve heard from the Red Rover user community include:

  • Developing substitute training programs to develop further education or special credentials for exactly what your district needs.
  • Seeking potential substitutes from within the school community itself, such as offering opportunities to parents and relatives.
  • Supporting government-funded substitute-to-teacher training pipelines to permanent employment.
  • Watching the news for layoffs that could put talented people into circulation. 
  • Job fairs for the underemployed looking to supplement their income.

 

Sub Profile 3: Ruben

37, gym manager, married father of 4, drives rideshare to help make ends meet, now affected by COVID-19 travel restrictions. Certified personal trainer and EMT, fills in for vacancy opportunities at his children’s school.

 

Technology Poised to Respond

Just as advances in technology helped create the gig economy, so too can modern absence management software open up possibilities for connecting better with today’s substitute pool. Increasingly being asked to do more for less, K12 districts nationwide are naturally adopting the efficiencies inherent in software solutions. But software alone isn’t a magic wand. Keeping today’s substitute profiles top of mind when evaluating a software solution may suggest: 

  • Familiar, user-friendly mobile interface modeled after apps gig workers already use
  • Notification options based on user job preferences and skills
  • Ability to break long absences into smaller, bite-size chunks
  • Separate absence and vacancy classifications for long-term and short-term assignments
  • Text messaging distribution of important, timely information
  • Enhanced sub profiles with photograph for building security
  • Badging of specific credentials to allow easy matching between person and position

If we can say there’s any blessing to be taken from a pandemic, it’s innovation. From fast-track vaccines to virtual meetings, the myriad ways we’ve been compelled to adapt are creating innovations we’ll be using for years to come. Districts that can institute new human-centered concepts now may find both rates and satisfaction are improved over the long run. 

Ready to attract more subs and increase your fill rates?  Schedule a demo