As we already know, April to July is the busiest time of year for schools recruiting teachers in Thailand. Some schools and institutes seem to fill their vacancies with little effort while others seem to struggle - even after posting several job ads on the internet in a short space of time.
I was contacted a couple of weeks ago by a very nice Thai lady who is in charge of recruiting teachers for a government school in rural Thailand. The email began like this....
Dear Ajarn. I have placed three job ads on ajarn.com recently but the response to those ads and the number of applications received have been very poor - in fact far lower than we expected. I have been directly recruiting teachers for my school for over ten years and this is the most difficult it has ever been. I really don't want to go down the teacher agency route - despite the fact that I seem to get a new agency contact me every day promising to supply us with good teachers.
Truth is we still prefer to hire teachers directly because we feel it works out better for both parties. However, I'm beginning to see a partnership with a teaching agency as the only remaining option. Would you kindly do me the favor of having a look over my job ads to see where perhaps the school is going wrong?
From a business point of view, customers such as this lady who wrote the e-mail above are like gold. Rather than say nothing and take her custom elsewhere, she's reached out to us and asked for help and guidance. In these situations I'm more than happy to spend a few minutes going over job ads and to see if I can come up with any constructive feedback.
So what could I glean from the job ad itself? Firstly, it was a very well-written advertisement with a lot of attention to detail. All the information that a potential applicant would need was there. There were no secrets or hidden agendas.
The teacher would be working at a large government school in a very rural area of Thailand. The ad even went on to imply that it was a school far from the bright lights of any Thai town or city. The successful applicant would be teaching 23 periods a week from Monday to Friday to mainly teenagers. There would be no weekend work but there would be the occasional request to help with a Saturday half-day student activity (and any teacher who has taught at a government school in Thailand will know that this is par for the course)
The job ad concluded with a list of benefits - assistance with work permit, accommodation allowance, health insurance, etc, etc - and of course the contact details.
The salary on offer was a fairly respectable 35,000 baht a month. OK, not a fortune - but for a government school in the proverbial middle of nowhere, certainly not a bad deal either.
So where was this school going wrong? Why were they having such a difficult time trying to attract teachers?
I read through the ads and two aspects of the job description caught my eye immediately and I began to get an inkling of where the school's recruitment problems might lie.
In the list of qualifications, the job ad clearly stated;
a) Teachers must have a minimum of two years teaching experience.
b) Teachers must be between 25 and 45 years old.
If you've been around teacher recruitment in Thailand for as long as I have, then you'll know that by insisting on the above requirements, you are narrowing your field down to almost non-existent - if you're a government school somewhere out in the boondocks that is.
Let's get the age specification out of the way first. "Teacher must be between the ages of 25 and 45"
Immediately you are ruling out all the ‘gap year students' - those who have finished university and fancy a year or two teaching English in some exotic country.
And how many teachers are there looking for full-time work between the age of 46 and retirement age? Well, I don't have any figures to hand but it must be an awful lot.
The problem is - and something your average Thai school recruiter is unaware of - is that teachers of 46 and over generally fall into two categories. Firstly there's the person looking for a mid-life career change (I'll avoid the expression ‘mid-life crisis) and secondly, the teacher who already has several years of Thailand teaching experience under his or her belt, probably even more - and now possibly has family ties - or married with children so to speak.
The ‘mid-life career changers' generally won't have the two years of teaching experience necessary to apply for the government school job in question, and the settled-in-Thailand-family-man probably doesn't want to uproot his family and move them to a new home in a strange province.
If we revisit the first requirement - "teachers must have a minimum of two years teaching experience" - not only are the mid-life career changers unsuitable but also those under the age of 25.
Simply put, the school that's looking for teachers is being far too fussy. They need to, or rather have to, widen their net a little if they are going to find foreign teaching staff.
Let's go back to the nice Thai recruitment lady whose e-mail inspired this article. I asked her directly why she insisted on teachers being not over 45 years of age. I'm almost 50 years old myself and I hate that feeling of being considered too old and undervalued as much as the next man. Her answer surprised me.
"Oh we've employed a lot of teachers in the 45-65 age bracket down the years. It's just that we've always been very disappointed with them. Younger teachers just seem to fare better here"
She didn't go into detail. She didn't need to. If hiring older teachers has proved to be a failure for this particular school, then that's the way it is.
So who does this job at the government school really appeal to? I'll tell you who it appeals to. It appeals to a young guy in his early twenties. Picture him - young, enthusiastic, ambitious, motivated, eager to do a good job and with a sense of adventure. That's the kind of teacher this school is pitching for - whether it likes it or not.
Oh, but as we've already said - that kind of teacher doesn't have two years of teaching experience.
The penny finally dropped. The recruitment lady realised why her job ads were meeting with such a poor response.
This is just one isolated recruitment story though. I'm sure there are thousands of schools the length and breadth of the country in exactly the same boat - wondering why when they whack a job ad up on the internet, the queues of hopeful teachers aren't stretching around the block.
In my opinion, schools need to compile a job ad, take a step back to analyse the content - and ask themselves a question - "who does my job ad truly appeal to. What teacher demographic?"
How much are we paying?
Where is my school located?
What is the teaching workload per week?
Are the basic benefits covered?
Will the teacher have to work weekends or on extra-curricular activities?
What are other schools and competitors offering?
The answers to these questions should give recruitment some idea of the demographic they are pitching to. They need to get inside or get familiar with the foreign teacher mindset.
I'm not saying it's easy for your average Thai recruiter to get into the foreign teacher mindset. Why should it be? The recruiter has probably lived all their life in Thailand and not spent time getting to know foreign teachers and the problems they face when it comes to life in Thailand.
But if they were to take the time to scrutinize the TEFL recruitment field more closely (a lot more closely than they do now) I think it would go a long way to easing their teacher hiring headaches.