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Getting in, breaking in, settling in: Seeking excellence in inducting new teaching staff

Vivienne Blake, Renata Owen and Kenn Martin
The University of Western Australia

Universities seeking excellence need to give careful thought to the acculturation of new teaching and learning staff. Apart from the need to provide a supportive environment to incoming staff that will aid their retention, there are competitive pressures operating at national and international level, which will place additional emphasis on sound induction processes. High quality academics, both teachers and researchers, are likely to be in short supply in the future due to the aging population, expansion of university education and increased international competition as other countries deal with their shortfall by active recruitment programs. In this environment, there is a need for a pro-active stance in policy and procedures to attract and retain high quality staff, whether from a local, national or international source. Supportive people management policies are needed to build affiliation and loyalty in existing and new staff. Effective induction programs are an important element in this strategy. Induction aims to help teaching staff master the requirements of their new job, understand the policies and procedures of the organisation, be aware of and subscribe to organisational values and ethics and to establish good social relations. The failure to achieve these outcomes carries high costs for both the organisation and the individual. This paper describes impending changes to address shortcomings in the existing induction process at the University of Western Australia. The changes include an online framework to guide induction, enhanced orientation sessions at central and local level, a 'peer' system to assist the socialisation process and provides for monitoring to be done for quality assurance purposes. The intention is to provide an effective, compassionate and reliable induction process that will meet the needs of the new staff member and the University. It also is intended to aid the retention of high quality teaching and learning staff in an increasingly competitive labour market.


Introduction

Universities seeking excellence need to give careful thought to the acculturation of new teaching and learning staff. Apart from the need to provide a supportive environment to incoming staff that will aid their retention, there are competitive pressures operating at national and international level, which will place additional emphasis on sound induction processes.

High quality academics, both teachers and researchers, are likely to be in short supply in the future due to the aging population, expansion of university education and increased international competition as other countries deal with their shortfall by active recruitment programs. In Australia, academics born in the 1950's in the post World War II baby boom are now reaching the age at which retirement is possible, and this group can be expected to leave the workforce in increasing numbers (Hugo, 2002). The aging academic population is problem shared with other developed countries. In the United Kingdom, 40% of academics are aged 45 or over and one survey in the United States found that nearly one third of all full time faculty were 55 or older (Stuart, 2000).

In Australia, management practices of the last 10-15 years, which have emphasised the use of short term contracts, have discouraged young people from taking up careers as academics. The lack of early job security and a less than promising career path has directed talented young people into other career choices. The end result is a looming shortage of skilled teachers, as experienced staff retire (Hugo 2002).

Compounding the problem is the growth in university education, which is taking place around the globe. University places in Australia have increased by 30% between 1991 and 2001 (Higher Education at the Crossroads, 2002) It is estimated that in the next 50 years 75% of those living in developed countries, and 50 % of those in emerging economies, will have a higher education qualification (Striving for Quality, 2002). Naturally, many countries are seeking to increase their pool of skilled university teachers by attracting academics from other countries. There is global competition, and most OECD countries have active programs to identify and attract talent.

In this environment, there is a need for a pro-active stance in policy and procedures to attract and retain high quality staff, whether from a local, national or international source. Supportive people management policies will be important, including policies which enhance work/life balance, family friendly policies, equitable workload arrangements, relocation support, work mentoring arrangements and an effective induction and orientation process (Hugo 2002, Stuart 2000). This paper will focus on the challenges involved in improving induction and orientation of teaching and learning staff.

An induction process which builds affiliation and loyalty is important to both new and experienced academics. The development requirements of those new to teaching are considerable, with a steep learning curve required to master the basic skills of teaching, as well as understanding the broader context of professional life in a university. Even experienced teachers coming into a new university, whether of local, national or international origin, have a lot to learn about the new culture They must absorb 'how things are done around here'- and understand how teaching and learning activity is framed by the new institution. Only when a level of comfort has been established with their new work environment, can they begin to engage in the kind of reflective practice which leads to enhanced teaching and continued professional development.

At the individual level, an effective induction will allow teaching staff to adjust more quickly to their new position and the university, contributing to a sense of being competent and productive. At the organisational level, successful induction provides improved job satisfaction, increases productivity and increases the likelihood of retention in an environment in which high quality teaching and learning staff are likely to be in short supply.

What induction is and why it matters

Cascio (1995) defines induction as a process to inform new staff concerning: Delahaye (2000) describes it as an introduction to the new organisation, which encompasses aspects such as procedural training and socialising the new comer to the organisational climate.

The value of induction is supported by Becker, Huselid & Ulrich (2001) who examined the human resource practices in high performing organisations. Successful and highly productive organisations spent three times more hours (116.87 in the first year) inducting new staff than did low performing organisations (35.02 hours).

Induction is intended to introduce new staff to the work culture, including clarifying organisational values. Induction begins a process for new staff of identifying these values and demonstrating their importance through endorsement by the executive and hopefully demonstrated by the other members of the staff's working community.

Learning about procedures and policy related to teaching and learning is another aspect of induction. From a risk management point of view a university has an obligation to ensure that teaching staff have all the necessary information they require to ensure that students receive the quality of education they are expecting. Where staff are not properly equipped there is a risk of litigation.

Induction therefore plays a key role in clarifying expectations and values, attending to risk management issues, assisting adjustment to the new work climate and providing necessary technical and professional information in order that the new staff member can become a productive and committed part of the university community. The role of induction is summarised in Figure 1

Figure 1

Figure 1: Organisational socialisation: Its major phases
(Baron and Greenberg, 1990, p306)

Current induction strategies

Induction of new teaching staff is important, but do universities do it well? To illustrate the issues typically faced by Australian universities the approach taken by the University of Western Australia will be discussed. The current induction processes will be described, then the improvements that are being undertaken to address shortcomings will be discussed.

The University of Western Australia is a high quality research intensive university with a broad and balanced coverage of disciplines in the arts, science, and major professions. It is Western Australia's oldest university, established in 1911, and currently has a student population of 15,500. It has 2050 staff members, including 1100 academics.

The University of Western Australia provides staff induction with central, local and, in some areas, online options . However, the structure, content and uptake within the University is widely variable. Different communities within the University over time have evolved different standards, expectations, norms, traditions and policies that impact on expected social behaviour and work climate. This is recognised in the Human Resources Policies and Procedures:

39.2.1 Induction and Orientation

The University wishes to see all new staff provided with appropriate induction and orientation to the organisation and to their new role. This is both a central responsibility and the responsibility of the school in which the new staff members works.
HR Policies and Procedures - New Staff Induction (2003).

The University, through the Centre for Staff Development, hosts an orientation program for new staff, both academic and general, twice a year, just before first and second semesters begin. In addition new staff have access to a variety of introductory courses through the Centre for Staff Development. New academic staff are required, as outlined in their contract of employment, to attend a course entitled The Foundations of University Teaching and Learning. The course is aimed at new staff and those with teaching experience who wish to refine, test out, validate or develop their present conceptions of good teaching and the practices they currently engage in as teachers. Lastly, the Human Resources policies include guidelines on the induction of new staff and the responsibilities at the School level.

Although it is clear that the University has a commitment to the induction of new staff there is room for improvement. 27% of academic staff indicated that they had not been given sufficient assistance to settle into their job quickly, when they commenced work at the university (UWA Working Life Survey, 2000).

Where local level/school induction programs exist, they tend to focus on administrative matters, for example, safety issues, meeting the staff, parking, morning tea, IT issues, overview of the School, stationery, photocopying, library cards etc. The staff member is also directed to the websites with relevant University policies. Although all of these things are very important to the new staff member there appears to be a gap in terms of specific matters in which a new academic staff member involved in teaching should be aware. These are matters which relate, for example to, assessment policies, examinations, marking policies, plagiarism and student contact time.

In addition, the recent Australian Universities Quality Agency (AUQA) review of the University highlighted a disconnection between the existence of policies at a central level and the enactment of these policies at the local level. Adequate induction is needed to ensure new staff are aware of relevant policies from the beginning of their career within the University.

For all these reasons, the University has identified that there is room for improvement with respect to induction of new staff.

New induction model to address these issues

To address the shortcomings of the induction process, a project is currently underway to review what happens at the central and local level, and to put in place appropriate systems for ensuring that staff are provided with the information they require to undertake their duties. This project has included a literature review; examination of induction in other universities to identify best practice; advice from an induction advisory group which was constituted to represent staff with various perspectives to offer; information from managers; and review of feedback on the existing induction approach.

The review indicated the need for induction to be conducted at multiple levels

There needs to be integration of induction processes at these levels, so that the new staff member experiences a coordinated, compassionate and comprehensive introduction to their new environment. In addition, to practical support and information, the induction process needs to take account of the personal/emotional and social requirements of the individual.

At the University of Western Australia, 'orientation' refers to face to face delivery of group or individual sessions and 'induction' refers to the total process of entry and socialisation, including use of written and online materials, meetings, sessions and programs.

The proposed induction model incorporates an online framework to guide the induction process, both for the new starter and their supervisor; an orientation session conducted centrally; materials to guide the development of an effective induction program at the local (school/unit) level; and a peer/mentor system to support the new starter.

Figure 2

Figure 2: Proposed induction framework

Online framework

New staff may commence work at any time in the year and an online facility was seen as an ideal way to provide an easily accessible framework to guide induction. There is no intention to conduct all the induction process online, as the face to face interaction is crucial to introduce staff to their new environment. However, an online framework will provide an effective platform to coordinate the process. It will provide guidance to supervisors in preparing for and conducting induction including samples of effective induction programs from various areas of the university to seed ideas about how to develop local induction programs. In addition the site will provide guidance to the new starter by directing them to information and clarifying expectations; information to the peer/mentor about their role and additional guidance and support for new international staff members.

Orientation session

Orientation sessions will be held centrally and allow the new staff member to access important overview information, as well as the opportunity to meet each other and the senior university staff. This approach will ensure that key information needs are met as well as provide 'socialisation' to the new environment. Sessions will be held twice a year, before the beginning of each semester. The program takes place over 4 days, with the first session being open to all staff, general and academic. New staff choose which of the subsequent sessions they will attend, depending upon their responsibilities for teaching and learning, research and/or academic leadership. See Figure 3.

Day 1
Welcome to University of Western Australia
Every New Staff Member (1.5 hours)
  • Overview of University (history, strategic directions, structure, budget)
  • Welcome morning tea and Expo
  • Optional session for women describing support programs and networks
  • Walking tour of the University
Central levelSchool level
Day 2
Teaching and Learning (1.5 hours)
For new academics; sessional staff
  • University teaching and learning policies
  • T&L Committee
  • Infrastructure and support for T&L offered centrally
  • Awards and recognition
  • Link to promotion
  • Professional development and study leave
(Date and time as negotiated)
Teaching and Learning
  • Faculty and School teaching and learning policies ( eg assessment , examinations, student contact time)
  • Local infrastructure and support
  • Professional development and study leave
Day 3
Research (1.5 hours)
For academics, career research staff
  • University research policies
  • Infrastructure and support for research offered centrally (Research Services Office, Office of Industry and Innovation etc)
  • Database (COS)
  • Link to promotion
  • Professional development
(Date and time as negotiated)
Research
  • Local research policy and procedures
  • Discipline Heads
  • Professional development and study leave
Day 4
Leadership (1.5 hours)
For Heads of School, School Managers, Faculty Managers, Heads of Discipline, Team Leaders (academic and general)
  • Clarify what is expected of leaders and academic leadership
  • Organisational goals and values in relation to academic leadership
  • Responsibilities and delegations
  • Creating a collaborative and supportive culture
  • Role in performance management
  • Professional development and support
(Date and time as negotiated)
Leadership
  • Leadership expectations and dimensions at School/Faculty level
  • Role of Head of School, School Manager and Discipline Head
  • Partnerships within School, Faculty and broader university community

Figure 3: Orientation and induction program content

Local level orientation

Figure 3 also shows the content that will be included at the local level orientation. Depending upon the number and type of new staff commencing, the local sessions could be one on one or for small numbers of staff. The local orientation session will scheduled as part of the local induction program, and the supervisors will be reminded of the need to provide the session by the online supervisor's checklist.

An action learning program will be provided for representatives from schools, units and offices to assist them to develop local induction programs based on best practice models.

Peer support system

A further element of the induction program, is a peer support system. This is intended to be informal and low key. A 'peer' will be nominated to look after the new starter in their first six months. The 'peer' will help the new staff member settle in, informally introducing them to other staff as well as providing assistance on such routine things as where to buy lunch, how to access the photocopier and morning tea arrangements. Guidance to 'peers' on their role and responsibilities will be provided on the online website.

Quality assurance

As part quality assurance, Human Resources will send a report to the Head of School at the end of each semester, identifying the new staff who have commenced in the last six months. The Head of School/supervisor and the new staff member will be asked to jointly sign off, confirming that induction has been completed.

Summary of induction process

A summary of the induction process is shown in Figure 4.

OrientationInduction onlineLocal level induction
What do you need to know about the "big picture" related to this University?What do you need in the first 1-6 months?What issues do you need guidance on as you settle into your role?
  • Central level
  • Central provides/maintains online site
  • Online process implemented at School/Office level
  • Provided by School/office
    • Supervisor
    • Peer
Human Resources monitors for quality assurance

Figure 4: Induction process summary

Conclusion

With increasing competition for high quality academic staff, universities need to take a pro-active stance towards the attraction and retention of teaching and learning staff. Supportive people management policies are needed to build affiliation and loyalty in existing and new staff. Effective induction programs are an important element in this strategy. Induction aims to help staff master the requirements of their new job, understand the policies and procedures of the organisation, be aware of and subscribe to organisational values and ethics and to establish good social relations. The failure to achieve these outcomes carries high costs for both the organisation and the individual. The proposed induction process described in this paper addresses shortcomings in the existing system at the University of Western Australia. The intention is to provide an effective, compassionate and reliable induction process that will meet the needs of the new staff member and the university. It also is intended to aid the retention of high quality teaching and learning staff in an increasingly competitive labour market.

References

Baron, R. A., & Greenberg, J. (1990). Behaviour in Organisations: Understanding and Managing the Human Side of Work. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Becker, B. E., Huselid, M. A., & Ulrich, D. (2001). The HR Scorecard: Linking People, Strategy and Performance. Harvard Business Press.

Cascio, W. (1995). Managing Human Resources: Productivity, quality of work life, profits. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Delahaye, B. L. (2000). Human Resource Development: Principles and Practice. Brisbane: John Wiley & Sons Australia.

Higher Education at the Crossroads: An Overview Paper (2002, 08 December 2003). Department of Education, Science and Training (DEST). [viewed 22 Dec 2003] http://www.backingaustraliasfuture.gov.au/publications/crossroads/

HR Policies and Procedures - New Staff Induction (2003, 16 Sep 2002). University of Western Australia. [viewed 20 Oct 2003] http://www.hr.uwa.edu.au/policy/toc/appointment_and_employment/staff_development/new_staff_induction

Hugo, G. (2002, 15 August). Demographics - Workforce Profile Impact On Recruitment Strategies. Presentation at the Group of Eight Universities Human Resources Conference, Perth, Western Australia.

Stuart, J. (2000). Achieving Institutional and Staff Renewal: Retrenchment, Retirement, Recruitment, Reward and Retention. Perth: University of Western Australia.

Striving for Quality: Learning, Teaching and Scholarship (2002, 08 December 2003). [HTML]. Department of Education, Science and Training (DEST). [viewed 22 Dec 2003] http://www.backingaustraliasfuture.gov.au/publications/striving_for_quality/

UWA Working Life Survey (2000, 04 April 2002). [viewed 22 Dec 2003] http://discussiondocuments.uwa.edu.au/discussion_documents/uwa_working_life_survey_(2000)

Authors: Vivienne Blake, Renata Owen and Kenn Martin, Organisational and Staff Development Services, The University of Western Australia

Contact person:
Vivienne Blake
Organisational and Staff Development Services
The University of Western Australia
35 Stirling Highway, Crawley WA 6009
Email: vblake@csd.uwa.edu.au

Please cite as: Blake, V., Owen, R. and Martin, K. (2004). Getting in, breaking in, settling in: Seeking excellence in inducting new teaching staff. In Seeking Educational Excellence. Proceedings of the 13th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 9-10 February 2004. Perth: Murdoch University. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2004/blake.html


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