Feckless millennials, or something else?

Part of the issue with the teacher supply crisis is that government is diagnosing the problem wrong. It's not a 'generational thing'.

There are two main elements to the teacher supply crisis, recruitment of new people into the profession, and retention of teachers once they are there.

The facts about recruitment are dire: there’s been a persistent decline in the number of new graduates, as the graph here shows. This is now well below the replacement rate, which requires around 1400 new secondary teachers to enter the profession each year.

When it comes to retention, there is somewhat less clarity. We know that around 40% of new teachers leave teaching within the first five years. This rate hasn’t changed a lot in recent times – but we do know that it’s significantly contributed to by so many new teachers not having permanent jobs.

There is also data to suggest that the loss rate for later career teachers is increasing too. Overall vacancy rates are increasing steadily, and our surveys show more teachers leaving teaching in the public system for good than at any time in the last ten years.

However, there’s an argument that the Ministry of Education makes about loss rates that is very problematic. Their claim is, young teachers are more inclined to want to change jobs often than previous generations; essentially, we shouldn’t expect people to stay in teaching for long.

One way that they are promoting this message is through a new marketing campaign to science, maths and tech students. Highlighting some individuals who are supposed to encourage tertiary students to take up teaching, three of the four people profiled are not current teachers – they trained and then within a few years left the classroom for another career. The message: use teaching as a springboard for something more glamorous.

There are a bunch of issues with this.
One is the assumption that young people are more likely to be feckless, switching careers more often than previous generations. The trouble is, the data says the opposite.

Unfortunately NZ specific studies are hard to come by, but it’s probably fair to look at US ones for some guidance here. They show clearly that

  1. Yes, young people switch jobs more often that older people
  2. But they always have
  3. And the rate of job switching amongst young workers has been dropping over the last 15 years
  4. Overall rates of ‘occupational churn’ are at historic lows
  5. Median job tenure now is similar to what it was in the 1950s

What we know from NZ is that:

  1. The largest group of people going into secondary teacher ITE each year are second career people making commitment to move into the profession from other jobs, not those fresh from university.
  2. The proportion of resignations from teachers to go into other jobs (19%) is higher than the general population (5%), suggesting that the churn amongst young teachers is not driven by some generational imperative, but by factors associated with the teaching job.
  3. 40% of teachers left teaching for retirement in the last year while only 21% of the general workforce leaves their job for retirement, suggesting that teachers are stayers!

So why would the Ministry insist that we shouldn’t expect people to want to stay in teaching?

It’ simple; they don’t have to address making it a job that’s sustainable, manageable and attractive over the long term.

This matters, a lot, for the type of education we can give to our students. Fullan and Hargreaves have strong evidence to show on average teachers take seven years to reach their peak performance.

If we’re churning through young graduates and spitting them out into other jobs before they’ve really hit their stride, we’re not doing right for our teachers or our students.


Data from:

Replacement rates required, loss rate of new graduates , from Secondary Teacher Supply Working Group Report

Teachers leaving the profession increasing, from Secondary School Staffing Survey Report 2017

Trainee data, from  Education Counts Initial Teacher Education statistics

Last modified on Wednesday, 13 September 2017 12:46