I was kind of in two minds about whether to blog about progression in HE for support staff. As administrative staff, I feel we have seen a real decline in the opportunities for progression and development. I have said in an earlier blog that the opportunities are there; you just have to go out and get them….and I do stand by that statement.
However, with a double-dip recession, the change in HE funding and the changing face of public HE, we have seen a real decline in progression opportunities. Most support roles within my own institution are ring-fenced to existing staff. It is rare for the higher graded opportunities to come up. Often they are initially limited to displaced staff – those on fixed term contracts who are at risk. It was a situation with a secondment opportunity that resulted in my Masters dissertation topic (a riveting read on European Directive 1999/70/EC and the Fixed Term Employees (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2002….yes, really).
The other thing I have noticed is the opportunities for Faculty and School staff compared to staff within Central operation departments. Faculty and School staff often get left behind – stuck even. I wonder if other institutions have similar issues to my own. I do not believe that we are unique in this. There is little room to move up the career ladder within Faculties and Schools for support staff. The opportunities simply are not there. Institutions are not recruiting externally, and internally (within Faculties and Schools at least), the only opportunities are within the same grading band; just a different school. Staff do not move sideways as a rule – why would they?
I applied for a temporary (maternity cover) role within a central department recently. To my surprise, I have been shortlisted for interview (surprise because when I have applied for higher graded roles in central departments, I have not been shortlisted, despite a wealth of experience, qualifications and many transferrable skills). This role is two grades higher than my existing role. I may be in a low-graded role, but I am not at that level of skill or experience. I know that in order to progress, I am going to have to move out of Faculty/School.
I believe that roles within central departments lead to greater opportunities for progression. The restrictions at Faculty/School level are too tight for support staff to progress. I believe that a balance needs to be struck. This is something that needs to be addressed within institutions who have these issues. There are excellent staff who are working below their skill and experience level; who could be utilised far, far better. And this in turn would lead to happier staff. Staff who feel valued are far more productive – is it time for HEI’s to address the disparity in the grading and opportunities for their support staff? I believe so. Without the support staff, an institution crumbles, and that is something that we cannot afford to do in the economic and educational climate.