Friday, 2 March 2018

Relative wages and the teacher shortage

Jack Boyle (president of the Post-Primary Teachers Association) wrote in the New Zealand Herald today:
Another way to look at it is that relativity matters. It's not the absolute value of the reward that's going to determine whether a task (or job) is seen as worth it, but how it compares with what others are getting too.
What's this got to do with teachers?
Over the past 10 years teachers have kept on getting cucumber while other workers are getting grapes. Relativity between what teachers earn and other workers has seriously declined.
A simple measure of this is the comparison between secondary teacher salaries and the median earnings of all employees. Since the early 2000s we've dropped significantly, from 1.8 times the median (for experienced teachers on the top of the pay scale) to just over 1.5. In effect, this means jobs that used to earn less than teachers now earn more, and jobs that require less than our four years' study are catching up.
Boyle is right that relativity matters for decision-makers, including students who are deciding whether to study to become teachers or something else. In this case, it the relative wage between teaching and other alternatives is one of the important determinants of the students' decisions. If teachers' salaries have risen less than the salaries that graduates in other disciplines earn (which is what the fall from 1.8 times the median wage to 1.5 times implies), then the relative wage has shift in favour of those other occupations. As a result, fewer students will choose to study to become teachers.

The relative wage between teachers and other occupations is made even worse by changes the non-monetary characteristics of teaching (which should also be relevant to students' decision about whether to study to be a teacher):
The work that secondary teachers do has become far more complex. Just in the past few years paper-work demands have exploded. There are now forms to fill out when you confiscate a student's phone, or go on a class trip, not to mention the planning, marking and moderation requirements of NCEA.
The relative wage between teaching and alternative occupations is a problem, and will be especially acute in Auckland, as I've noted before. If we really want to address the teacher shortage, then the government needs to step up and make the occupation more attractive for graduates, while at the same time heading off ill-conceived proposals that would make the problem worse.

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