The present study investigates the determinants governing change to a career in teaching. The question of what motivates individuals to forfeit their original occupation to become a teacher is important for policy making not only in times of teacher shortages but also in light of the quality of individuals that can be motivated to change their career mid-life to become a teacher.
More specifically, we use a particular feature of the Swiss vocational education and training (VET) system to study career change—that teachers of job-related subjects cannot choose teaching as their first career but can only become teachers after (a) acquiring the highest education qualification in their job category and (b) accumulating a certain number of years of job experience. Thus, all teachers of vocational subjects have changed careers. This special feature of the Swiss education system allows us to analyze a large number of career changers turning to teaching and to draw conclusions about how educational systems can attract high-quality career changers into teaching.
For our empirical analyses, we assess a unique data set of teachers who decided to change their careers to teaching. The data set is representative of the whole German- and French-speaking Switzerlanda. For our comparative analyses, we use data on the workforce from the Swiss Labor Force Survey (SLFS). We use the former wage position compared with the average wage of similar individuals in the former occupation of the teachers as an indicator for their performance in their former occupation as well as for teaching qualityb. With this approach, we follow Chingos and West (), who showed that better teachers leaving the teaching occupation earn more in the outside career and therefore provide evidence of a positive correlation between teaching quality and earnings outside teaching.
Our results show first that those who change careers to teaching (who are on average 40 years old) do not change careers because of a lack of (financial) success in their original career. Although the results are unsurprisingly heterogeneous, we can nevertheless explain at least part of this heterogeneity. Second, although the average teacher tends to rank among the higher earners in their original career, the majority of career changers expect to earn more as a teacher than in their original career. Again, we find a substantial heterogeneity: around one-third of career changers expect a wage reduction after changing.
The paper is structured as follows. The next section contextualizes our research with a description of the recruiting procedures for Swiss vocational education and training teachers followed by a brief review of the relevant literature. The “Methods and Data” section describes our data and outlines our research questions, and the “Results” section presents the empirical results and the final section concludes.
Recruitment of vocational teachers in Switzerland
The legal provisions governing the hiring of teachers for instruction in vocational subjects require candidates to meet two conditions. First, candidates must have the highest possible training qualification in the particular occupation, which in most cases is a professional education at tertiary level B (ISCED 5B)c or even an academic degree at tertiary level A (ISCED 5A)d. Second, they must have very good subject knowledge, i.e., a minimum of six months of occupational experience, with several years being the norm. Most teachers have a long history of job experience because the highest possible training qualification generally consists of practically oriented and occupationally specific training at an advanced level (57% of teachers in our sample have tertiary level B professional education and training), all of which involves many years of job experience. Extensive job experience is also apparent in our sample, with the average age of teachers being over 40 (see Table 1). Meeting all of these requirements an individual can be recruited by a vocational school as a teacher. Therefore, all vocational teachers in Switzerland are career changers. Only after recruitment – and besides teaching – teacher training starts. Individuals begin teacher training for full-time or sideline positions. Full-time teachers can teach full-time or part-time at vocational schools. Qualification for sideline teaching, by contrast, consists of much fewer training hours and, therefore, the certificate limits these teachers to teaching part-time and not full-time. We use the term sideline teachers to distinguish the teachers from those who are trained for full-time teaching but who may choose to teach part-time. For sideline teachers, their work at vocational school is precisely that – on the sideline of their work in their original occupation. The teachers are recruited from occupations being taught to students at the vocational schools. Therefore, the original occupations of the teaching staff reflect the respective apprenticeship market. The strong rooting of apprenticeship in the manufacturing sector also explains why more (one-third) vocational teachers than the working force average worked in industry and manufacturing prior to changing careers into teaching. One crucial factor directly affecting the monetary appeal of teaching at vocational schools is the competitiveness of the original occupations and business sectors in terms of the prevailing pay and working conditions.
The existing literature on the choice of teaching as a (first) career investigates both factors governing candidate quality and aptitude and factors governing the quantity of teachers available in the workforce. Economic literature tends to focus on the relative wage as a factor influencing the quantitative and qualitative supply of teachers on the labor market. Non-monetary factors have also been studied but only to some extent because these factors are usually much more difficult to address empirically.
Most studies demonstrate a positive wage elasticity of labor supply (Chevalier et al. ; Dolton ; Dolton and Chung ; Falch ; Manski ; Wolter and Denzler ). These findings may be related to labor supply elasticity being influenced to some extent by how high the wage differential is in absolute terms. Labor supply elasticity appears very high in cases where teachers earn less than individuals in similar occupations, whereas elasticity is relatively low where teachers tend to earn more.
For the qualitative selection of the teaching occupation, the results of known empirical studies are less conclusive. Whereas US studies find ample evidence of negative selection in terms of cognitive criteria (see, e.g., Corman ; Hanushek and Pace ; Manski ; Podgursky et al. ; Stinebrickner ), the results are less conclusive for German-speaking countries (see Denzler and Wolter ).
What makes applying these data most difficult to the subject matter explored in this paper is that all of these studies focus on why people select teaching as a first career after graduation, i.e., there is a deficiency of comparable empirical studies investigating why people select teaching as a second career.
Therefore, to construct the hypotheses on career change for teachers we also use career change literature to explore the predictive factors of career change. Standard search and matching models (Burdett ; Jovanovic ; Mortensen ; Neal ) start by assuming that labor markets feature heterogeneous employers and employees as well as imperfect information. In these models, employee productivity is highest where there is the perfect match to the specific job. Because neither employer nor employee will know the optimal match in advance, employees will keep changing jobs until they achieve the perfect match. As a consequence of this search process, changing jobs correlates with increasing wages (Rubinstein and Weiss ). However, individuals do not continuously change employers and careers because any change involves a loss of human capital and, therefore, of productivity and wage.
According to the standard human capital theory (Becker ), assuming that wage corresponds to the workers’ productivity, jobs are associated with the acquisition of employer-, occupation- and industry-specific human capital that may be forfeited with a change of employer or—and even more—a change of career. The better match in the new job would therefore have to raise the productive value of general human capital enough to compensate for the loss in employer- and job-specific human capital. However, increased employer- and job specific skills lower turnover intentions (or a change of career) as employer-specific skills are less valuable to other employers (Doeringer and Piore ).Corresponding to the logic of human capital theory, a change is all of the more unlikely the longer the period of investment in employer- and job-specific human capital. One should therefore be able to observe a lower incidence of job changes (with or without career changes) as a function of seniority. Furthermore, in addition to the standard human capital theory, the strategy of backloading the compensation profile (i.e., paying the worker less than his marginal productivity when young and more when old to increase workers motivation over the whole working career and to alleviate monitoring problems) also explains a decreasing propensity in employer change with seniority (Lazear , Lazear , Daniel and Heywood ; Heywood et al. ).
Refinements of the human capital theory (e.g., the skills weight theory, see Lazear ) assume the existence of no general or specific human capital but only of different combinations of skills. These refinements suggest that, regardless of the existing duration of employment, mobility between employers, occupations and industries can still be high provided that the potential employment alternative requires a similar mix of skills (see, e.g., Geel et al. ). For our hypotheses, this additional factor is relevant because a vocational teacher’s job not only calls for levels of expertise similar to those required in the former occupation but also requires above-average expertise levels (i.e., a long history of skill-building) in the original occupation. As we can assume that a large amount of the expertise accumulated in the former occupation can be transferred to the new one (teaching), it is likely that the probability of changing a career to teaching will not correlate negatively with seniority. In contrast, individuals who changed employers frequently also tended to be those who had already changed careers once or several times. The lack of consistency in their employment history makes it more difficult for these individuals to enter the vocational teaching occupation because they do not fulfill the relevant requirements (see the section on the recruitment of vocational teachers in Switzerland).
Furthermore, empirical work on the role of job characteristics (also non-monetary characteristics) suggests that labor supply is affected by the specific characteristic of a job (e.g., Altonjii and Paxson ; Atrostic ; Kunze and Suppa ). More favorable working conditions affect job and life satisfaction (e.g., Cornelissen , Lüchinger et al. ) and job satisfaction or dissatisfaction may explain job changes (e.g., Clark ; Cornelissen ). Furthermore, job characteristics can also explain wage differentials (e.g., Wells ). Therefore, in addition to earnings prospects, job quality in teaching may motivate individuals to change to teaching.
As for forecasting based on search and matching models, individuals will want to change to the teaching occupation only if they expect it to be a better match. However, the extent to which a higher wage is expected to be part of that better match remains unclear. The reason is first, we do not know the relative position of different jobs regarding the job characteristics and hence non-monetary benefits. Second, the assumption that higher productivity will translate to a higher wage (wage reflects productivity) does not automatically apply in the public sector, where schooling takes place. One feature of vocational schools is that all teachers receive the same wage, depending on age, canton, experience and training, independent of their original occupation. Wages are set by cantonal laws, and schools therefore have no room for maneuver in wage setting. The financial attractiveness of teaching therefore depends essentially on the wage level of the individual’s original occupation. Therefore, we expect that schools can choose among several candidates for teaching positions from occupations with relatively low wage levels, whereas schools will face difficulties finding suitable candidates from occupations with high compensation levels.
Furthermore, we hypothesize that teachers change to teaching when their cumulated future compensation bundle (monetary and non-monetary benefits) is superior in the teaching occupation compared with their former occupation.