Help wanted at community colleges

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Like employers of many stripes, community colleges are facing their own challenges with the so-called Great Resignation, particularly in key faculty and staff roles like nursing instructors, financial aid counselors and custodians.

A research report released in the fall by the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), titled “Surviving the Great Resignation,” put the broader issue in stark relief, finding that nearly half of U.S. executives (49%) said their organizations had experienced higher turnover than usual in the previous six months, and an overwhelming majority (84%) said openings were going unfilled for longer periods than prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.

This excerpt comes from the April/May issue of AACC’s Community College Journal, which focuses on the 2022 AACC Annual that begins later this week.

John Dooney, HR knowledge advisor for SHRM, likens the hiring picture to a game of musical chairs.

“Everybody’s looking for some-one, and there’s too many jobs available,” he says. “It’s happening all at once, which creates a sense of scarcity and pushes up wages to get people in the door. We expect that down the road, there will be a challenge in three to six months where, after they hire folks at higher wages, previous employees who have been there for five years will ask, ‘Why am I not being treated that way?’”

SHRM also has seen desires for enhanced benefits come to the fore, such as stronger mental health supports, more flexible work hours, the ability to work remotely or in hybrid fashion, help in repaying student loans and even pet insurance in addition to family health insurance, Dooney says.

Although SHRM doesn’t keep data specific to community colleges, when it comes to hiring, Dooney suggests that two-year institutions talk up benefits — whether it’s paid-time-off or pensions — to further hiring and retention goals across the board. “Not everyone knows about all the benefits,” he says.

And to help with retention, managers should make sure to check in regularly with their employees, especially those who are still working remotely, Dooney says.

“Call the person up, be more intentional, and ask, ‘How’s your day going?’ And where is there confusion and misunderstandings?” he says.

SHRM has found, perhaps counterintuitively, that early career employees who are the most tech-savvy nonetheless have struggled the most with remote work.

“Boomers thought it was fine,” Dooney says. “They knew what was expected of them. They weren’t as strong at technology, but once they got over the hump, they were fine.”

Nursing faculty

Nursing faculty, including clinical preceptors, is one key area where community colleges and other institutions need to shore up hiring and retention, according to a report from the National Advisory Council on Nurse Education and Practice (NACNEP). But the report makes clear that colleges face challenges vis-à-vis a larger backdrop.

Steps over the past decade to increase salaries, better balance workloads, create greater respect and broaden diversity of faculty have led to federal, state and private investments — yet the shortage has continued, NACNEP reports, while a wave of retirements looms. Other challenges have included shifts in the competencies required for nursing faculty, inadequate training for preceptors, and varying guidelines among state nursing boards — not to mention the logistical issues related to social distancing during the pandemic.

Webinar on nursing apprenticeship: In collaboration with AACC, the Organization for Associate Degree Nursing will host a free webinar on April 26 on establishing a registered apprenticeship program in nursing.

The NACNEP report makes several recommendations to further address the issue, including asking Congress to allocate funding for programs that boost the numbers of nursing faculty and clinical preceptors, develop nurse faculty residency programs to improve recruitment and retention, and create a national center devoted to nursing education.

The Organization for Associate Degree Nursing, an affiliate council of the American Association of Community Colleges, is aware of these challenges and very much would like to help address them given that there is “no short-age of people who want to become nurses,” says Anna Valdez, a faculty member at Santa Rosa Junior College, Sonoma State University and Walden University, and editor-in-chief of the OADN journal, Teaching and Learning in Nursing.

In fact, Valdez says, the last two nursing-student application cycles have seen a higher-than-normal crop.

“Where the problem is, is that we just don’t have the capacity to train a lot more students than we do now,” she says. “A big part of that is shortage of faculty. We’ve seen so many nurses leaving the bed-side. These are unsustainable and unhealthy conditions for them. Those near to retirement decided to do it now. … And with so many new hires, and traveling nurses, they can’t take as many [nursing students in clinical settings]. Nurses can’t be training new hires and student nurses at the same time.”

Overall, about 5% to 10% of nursing faculty positions are vacant currently; and in California, where Valdez teaches, many colleges are experiencing failed recruitments. While salaries remain a challenge, two-year colleges have worked to retain faculty by creating a culture and work environment in which they feel valued.

“Doing things to create a healthy work environment is one of the things we can do, in addition to fixing the money issue,” she says.

Read the rest of the article in the new issue of CC Journal.

About the Author

Ed Finkel
Ed Finkel is an education writer based in Illinois.