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Geoff Johnson: Teachers' skills applicable in the business world

Teachers are being recruited by the private sector to work in sales, software, health care and training — and upgrade their employees’ skills.
The best teachers are able to communicate complex information and ideas effectively and in a variety of formats to a sometimes only partly motivated audience — skills valued in a business setting, writes Geoff Johnson. YAN KRUKAU VIA PEXELS

According to 2004 figures from the Canadian Teachers’ Federation, roughly 30 per cent of Canadian teachers leave their jobs in the first five years.

In 2019, the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation reported that 1,500 more teachers were needed.

Depending on the source, reasons cited for the reduced number of currently available teachers in public schools include the rising number of teacher retirements due to the pandemic and a decrease in teacher training applicant interest.

But there may be another reason rarely mentioned. While it is difficult to track down numbers specifically applicable to Canada, according to Kathryn Dill of the Wall Street Journal, teachers in the U.S. and the U.K. are leaving the classroom for jobs in the private sector where talent-hungry companies are hiring them — and often boosting their pay — to work in sales, software, health care and training, and related fields.

This interest in recruiting teachers may be because corporations, including Canadian corporations, are becoming increasingly aware of the need to maximize the skills of their workforce in order to compete and grow. This often means enhancing or refreshing their current employees’ essential skills.

Essential employee skills often needing to be upgraded include numeracy, writing, thinking skills, even oral communication.

The question is what kind of personnel are already the best trained and experienced to assist businesses and other organizations effect these employee upgrades?

Apparently, it could be teachers looking for a career change and new opportunities.

Teachers often lose sight of a fact already well known to corporate head-hunters: Effective teacher skills translate comfortably into very desirable corporate training skills.

After all, teachers have extensive public speaking skills. Teachers speak publicly all the time. That is easily one of the best and most in-demand transferable skills in teaching — the ability to stand in front of both small and large groups of people and deliver information with clarity and confidence.

The best teachers are able to communicate complex information and ideas effectively and in a variety of different formats to a sometimes only partly motivated audience.

Teachers become adept at thinking on their feet and revising their communication methods as the situation requires.

Teachers have problem-solving skills that often translate into offering alternative explanations for individual students with different learning styles.

In that sense, teachers have usually become adept at project management. Every secondary-school course is a long-term project that involves organizational skills similar to those needed for a business project. A teacher formulates the course concept, maps out the schedule, and determines how to optimize the educational experience for students.

Then there is how to best teach the course. The teacher practises good time management, actively responds to student feedback, makes adjustments to course content and structure, and meets students’ changing needs in an effective manner.

Henry Mintzberg, a Canadian academic and author on business and management and Cleghorn Professor of Management Studies at McGill University, wrote about management roles in his 1989 book Mintzberg on Management: Inside our Strange World of Organizations.

Included in Mintzberg’s management roles are many skills and responsibilities that, over the years, I have observed to also be the chief characteristics of successful teachers.

For example, the manager/teacher is looked to as a source of inspiration. Students and employees are comfortable with both the successful manager and the successful teacher as a person with authority — a leader who takes on the responsibility to manage the performance of everyone in a group.

Both managers and teachers represent and often speak on behalf their organization. In this role, both are responsible for transmitting information about the organization and its goals to the people inside and outside it.

This is a liaison function for both roles where the manager/teacher must effectively communicate goals and strategies to achieve those goals to his/her internal audience (students or employees) and his/her external audience (parents or others in the community).

Both the successful manager and the successful teacher regularly seek out information related to the needs of both the immediate organization and the overall future direction of the business (the changing demands and expectation of the clients of the business or of public education).

This needs to be done while watching for relevant changes in the environment.

As Lee Iacocca, the visionary automaker who led both Ford and Chrysler said: “In a completely rational society, the best of us would be teachers and the rest of us would have to settle for something else.”

Geoff Johnson is a former superintendent of schools.

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