By Gavin Gibbon
Leading recruitment firms have warned fight for talent, on top of Covid-19 restrictions, will place further pressure on sector
Ordinarily at the end of the school year, teachers can breathe a huge sigh of relief that they’ve made it to the summer, with a chance to regroup and recharge their batteries ahead of the rollercoaster returning in September.
The addition of distance learning has made that need for a break even more important, with many teachers thrust into the online environment without much, if any, previous experience.
However, for some, the uncertainty caused by the Covid-19 pandemic means they don’t even know if they have a job, what that will involve, or even what salary or package to expect come the start of the next academic year.
Figures released by GulfTalent recently revealed teacher recruitment in the UAE was down by 60 percent in April this year, compared to the numbers in February.
Mohammad Saleem Bhudye, CEO of UK-based education recruitment specialist Bhudye Group, told Arabian Business that their level of recruitment in the UAE has been decimated to “zero” and revealed that, in some cases, schools are cutting staffing levels by as much as 50 percent and job offers withdrawn, while others “are closing doors indefinitely”.
He said: “We always knew that the UAE had an oversupply rather over demand in the education sector. This strategy is now hitting the business owners, which will inevitably force them to take drastic measures or close doors completely.”
However, according to Bhudye, this is where teachers “need to be realistic”, with many still clinging onto the hope that the market will improve and better offers will emerge as a result.
He said: “As we progress towards the next academic year, teachers who have lost their job or who have resigned to take another position which is no longer materialising are realising the advice we gave them back in February, which was to stick to their current position or take any available position outside the UAE or confirmed position within the UAE, was good advice.
“We have so many teachers currently with no position for August still chasing the dream of getting employed by a school in their preferred city/country. Unfortunately, this has been the main challenge, to convince teachers to accept positions available to them.”
According to the UAE Ministry of Education website, there are 619 public schools across the country and 643 private schools, with a total of over 72,000 teachers altogether serving both.
Coleen Hoare, co-founder of CODA Education, said recruitment for the new academic year would typically be closing at this time, but revealed this year “much of the recruitment for September is yet to start”.
She said that 80 percent of vacancies registered in January have either been put on hold or cancelled, while the duration from interview to hire has increased, with the average offer previously turning around in ten days, now extending into three weeks to finalise.
“School senior leadership teams have been faced with a multitude of unexpected decisions regarding health and safety and the potential reduction of school fees as well as navigating online learning. This in turn has led to many ‘active roles’ being put on hold until student numbers are more clear,” she told Arabian Business.
“Many candidates are holding on tightly throughout the summer months hoping to secure their next contract, however, a vast amount have sadly been forced to make the decision to move.”
Those who are looking to make the switch to another position have also been warned to expect a reduced package than what’s been offered previously.
Sectors across the Middle East have been forced to cut their cloth accordingly during the current economic crisis, and the teaching profession hasn’t escaped these measures.
Hoare said: “Salary cuts and redundancies have definitely impacted the education industry in the UAE and we have seen our talent pool in the region grow by at least 30 percent in the last three months, with more people ‘considering a move’ or ‘available immediately’ for their next assignment.”
Recruitment for Saudi Arabia, in particular, became somewhat more difficult last month when it was announced that VAT is set to treble, from five percent to 15 percent, from July.
“Long gone are times with high packages and tons of benefits and with the latest consideration on income taxation in Saudi Arabia, this will bring dramatic changes to expat living in the GCC,” said Bhudye.
“We have noticed that all new hires are being offered a lower package than usual and this will be the case for at least another year or so, if not longer in the UAE.
“Teachers employed in countries where the education system is supported by the government are now realising how fortunate they are compared to their peers who once used to feel that their high earnings will be forever. There is always an end to good things as well as bad,” he added.
However, Bill Turner, senior associate at Search Associates, told Arabian Business the measures taken at present would not last and is confident that the industry will rebound.
He said: “As a result of falling rolls, some schools are reducing packages and some are withdrawing contracts, but it’s important to emphasise that this is temporary – the longer term view is optimistic for the industry.”
Hoare agreed that, amidst the current uncertainty and potential doom and gloom, there are still plenty of opportunities for teachers, particularly those already living and working in the region.
“The positive of this is that all of those vacancies that have been put on pause during the height of the pandemic are still there and are just likely to reopen much later than usual; I believe we are set for a late and busy period in the last two quarters of the year,” she said.
“The light at the end of the tunnel for teachers located in the region is that due to border restrictions and visa complications internationally we may see a shift towards the majority of recruitment being sourced from within the country and not from overseas this academic year.”
This has certainly been the case for UAE schools operator Taaleem. Despite the company’s recruitment starting back in October 2019, Kate Fisher, head of HR revealed a “small number of candidates” who had been offered positions subsequently had a “change of heart”.
She explained: “Whilst this is only a small number we were able to replace these vacancies with candidates already living in the UAE. These candidates are already familiar with education in the UAE and the inspection processes that schools go through each year.”
The term ‘summer holiday’ may apply to the many thousands of students this year, but it is clear the next few months will be anything but a holiday for those involved in the education sector.