The Great Resignation in Higher Ed

Scott TinerFor the past 18 months, firms in most industries have struggled with the dual challenge of hiring new employees and retaining current employees. Retaining employees has become a major issue across our country as the number of people quitting their jobs has been dubbed “The Great Resignation.” The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in July of 2021, four million people quit their job. In the state and local government education sector, the number of people quitting increased by 14,000 people. These numbers pose questions for workers in these sectors, along with those who service these sectors.

While these numbers don’t identify the exact jobs that people are quitting, they clearly illustrate that people are leaving and we are having a hard time filling those positions. Anecdotally, I know that I have spoken with a number of colleagues at various institutions who are getting burnt out and are ready to move on. The common theme is that, in the past, there has been a trade-off with higher ed. You will get paid less than in a commercial role, but in general, there is less stress, more time off and no quotas to meet. Now they suggest that if budgets are cut, raises are eliminated and work is increasing, why not get more money working for a commercial firm, especially when work from home is permitted and moving your entire family is no longer necessary.

When these changes happen in the employment market, firms have to decide what they will cut, what will need to change or what services will need to suffer. Education is no different. If we are losing staff or faculty, we need to make decisions about service changes. The problem feels exacerbated for those of us who work in the IT or AV field in higher education. We are losing staff and cannot replace them, even when the demands placed on us are ever-increasing and the value of the services we provide has increased. I often tell my own team that, in my opinion, they kept the college running from March of 2020 to today. Then, I follow up by having to tell them that the marathon is far from over.

I am not foolish enough to predict the future. Heck, I would have been the guy that told you the pandemic was over in June of 2021. However, I think this current employment situation will cause an increase in higher ed business to be moved to integrators instead of being internal. I would expect that, if colleges and universities cannot hire people internally to support their spaces, they will have to turn to outsourcing that support. This could be on-site support, or it could be purchased support from a company like Teleportivity. I would also expect to see many schools start to bring in outsourced people to help with design, installation and programming of spaces. With demand for these changes growing, the current internal staff simply cannot keep up with the pace. 

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Both of these ways of increasing support to colleges and universities are critical because of the importance of AV in higher ed. While many are back to full-time and in-person classes, we continue to have issues with students, faculty and staff being in quarantine or isolation to keep the virus at bay. Additionally, we have learned so much over the past year that faculty and student expectations of services have changed. Students who are out with any illness today, from the flu to a broken bone, expect that they will have access to their classes in a HyFlex model. That is just part of the standard offer in higher education today. Due to this changed service need, classroom equipment needs to be upgraded and supported more frequently than in the past. Seven- to ten-year replacement cycles won’t fit the bill anymore.

Finally, there is another way that this Great Resignation could help integration firms. They may start looking at people who work in higher ed as possible new employees. Current higher ed AV staff are well trained, experienced and arguably know the industry better than any salesperson from another vertical. As mentioned previously, they are likely already putting in hours similar to what one would expect in a commercial firm. Couple a pay raise with a very flexible policy that allows them to work from home, and you have a very attractive pool of candidates. This then allows you to provide outsourced support to schools in a turnkey way. I find business cycles and trends fascinating, and if this one pans out to be accurate, it will be a clear movement towards other trends that have long been discussed in higher ed, like AVaaS and managed services. Only time will tell.