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Working in the Private Sector

Queen’s University researchers look at why teachers work in the private sector and what kinds of jobs they do.

By Rosemarie Bahr

Most people assume teachers working in the private sector have jobs that involve training. People also assume that the teachers are doing those jobs only because they were unable to get a place in a classroom.

A 1999 study done by faculty at Queen’s University found both those assumptions to be false.

Researchers working on the Educators Working in the Private Sector Project found that private sector employers had misperceptions of the teaching profession and teachers had misperceptions of business. Both, the study concluded, needed to learn about the other as they could both benefit.

Project manager Bev Thibault teaches an elective course at Queen’s Faculty of Education called “Teachers in Business and Industry.” She says, “We realized that the capacity for teachers to make contributions to society is not limited to the classroom, and yet there were so few people who could see beyond the conventional. We knew there were a number of graduates from the education program who were not teachers. What were they doing? Sure enough, a number of them were working in the private sector. So we wanted to find out their stories and see how relevant and common these experiences were. That is how it all got started.”

Another impetus for the study was the difficulty faculty were having in finding placements for the teacher candidates in the Business and Industry course. Many of the companies they approached could see little role for educators beyond the training department.

The eight-month study was funded by Human Resources Development Canada’s Youth Employment Strategy program. The researchers used unstructured telephone interviews and an interview guide to talk with more than 60 people – education graduates from across Canada, their work associates, private sector recruiters and university placement officers.

“Contrary to what may be a common assumption,” says the study, “the majority of educators who participated in the research said they did not enter the private sector because of a lack of teaching jobs. Twelve of the 18 who responded to this question said they made a conscious decision to pursue a career outside the traditional classroom.”

Almost half of the teachers interviewed had earned their education degree within the last two years. Most entered the private sector directly after graduation. Others left the classroom as a result of fatigue or because they found they were dissatisfied working in the public sector.

The study found that less than 20 per cent of the educators worked in training. More than a quarter worked in the high-tech sector as software developers, programmers and quality assurance personnel. Others in the study had careers in commercial credit, investment banking, publishing, human resources consulting and research.

The researchers found that many private sector employers know little about the teaching profession or the skills educators possess. Common responses were that teachers only want to teach, teachers don’t know anything about business and teachers can’t cope in a private-sector environment.

According to the report, even the recruiters in the private sector have no idea that the skills educators acquire as they learn to teach match the skills recruiters value. Recruiters said that organizations seek employees with strong analytical, communication, collaborative, organization and computer skills.

The study matched this list with the abilities that the participants identified as belonging to educators. Those abilities were to:

  • analyze and identify the information needs of a wide variety of people
  • convey information so that the recipient can use it in a way that accommodates individual needs
  • communicate clearly using a wide variety of vehicles
  • plan, organize and deliver programs on time
  • work collaboratively with a wide variety of personalities.

Bev Thibault says that as she interviewed recruiters they identified skills, or attributes, needed in the workplace – being adept at working independently and in teams, having the desire to make other people work better. These were attributes of teachers, but when she asked recruiters if they thought teachers would fare well in the private sector, they weren’t sure.

“They thought teachers only worked from 10 to 3 and wanted their summers off. They had no idea how hard teachers work,” remarked Thibault. “These misperceptions about the teaching profession often discouraged employers from looking at teachers as potential employees.”

The study reports: “Close to 90 per cent of private-sector recruiters were unaware that education graduates earn an undergraduate degree prior to receiving their teaching certification. As the interviews progressed, however, the recruiters came to realize how relevant the educators’ abilities are to private-sector work tasks.”

Thibault reported: “So many employers that we spoke to said, ‘I need individuals who can learn on the go, who can communicate effectively, adapt to changing situations, learn how to work with a variety of different people.’ Teachers said, ‘I need to learn, to grow and expand professionally.’ There they were, both asking for the same thing, and they had no idea about the other’s domain.”

The study concluded that the private sector would benefit from learning more about the teaching profession, as educators had the skills recruiters wanted to hire. Equally, the report said, teachers would benefit from learning more about business, as there were many opportunities for interesting work for educators.

Linda Ross, who was faculty sponsor of the study, expects it to help when it comes to finding placements for students taking the Teachers in Business and Industry course. “We are not guessing any more.” she says, “We have a better understanding of the contributions educators make to business and so we can talk about that. It is a door-opener into a world that normally education doesn’t have a whole lot to do with.”

Ross points out that only 25 to 35 per cent of students go to university and that teachers who have been teaching for 15 or 20 years don’t know much about the work world. “So,” she says, “if teacher candidates are prepared, they are better able to understand the kind of world kids will go into. Teacher candidates who are exposed to business but end up teaching in a classroom will be much more informed about business and industry.”

Dofasco, the Hamilton steelmaker, has more than 7,000 employees. It has been taking teacher candidates on placement from Queen’s for three years.

Dave Santi, Manager of Human Resource Development, has more to say about how this kind of exposure is needed in industry: “When we look at the demographics, we recognize we’re going to have to do some significant hiring over the next few years. We have a vested interest in making sure that young folks, when making career choices, understand more about the steel industry, about the opportunities in the areas of technology – trades being one of those areas.”

Rena Upitis, dean of the Queen’s education faculty, holds that people who are more broadly educated do better when they are in school classrooms too. She says, “Many of those people who did the Teachers in Business and Industry course will end up teaching in classrooms but they will have an idea of how another workplace works and bring that kind of knowledge into their classroom teaching.”

Upitis comments, “The teaching profession has taken a bit of a blow in the eyes of the general public and one way of counteracting that is to provide programs that make it possible for beginning teachers to interact with members of the general public.”

Educators Working in the Private Sector is one step in counteracting those misperceptions held both by the private sector and by teachers.

For a copy of the complete study, see the project’s web site: