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An interview with AirSupply

May 5th, 2017

Recruiting staff, both temporary and permanent, is an ongoing challenge for schools and academies. It is an issue which is becoming all-consuming for those running a school, detracting from the important job of achieving positive outcomes for learners.

Cue AirSupply – ‘an alternative to a recruitment agency’ who want to give schools back ‘the control and choice’ they deserve when it comes to recruiting staff. Based in the tech hub of London’s Old Street, AirSupply are creating online solutions to help get quality teachers into schools quickly, without the hassle and costs. Their web-based system, launching in June, ‘matches’ registered supply teachers with temporary placements posted by schools for much lower costs than an agency would charge, ensuring ‘teachers get paid more and schools pay less.’

We spoke to AirSupply’s Chairman, Raza Khan, this week to find out exactly who AirSupply are and what they can do for schools.

What prompted you to set up the service?

I have been involved in many charities and projects in the education sector and have seen first-hand the difficulties both schools and supply teachers are facing. It made me angry that schools were paying so much for a service they didn’t get much control over, and that supply teachers were getting underpaid, which was particularly highlighted by the campaigns run by the unions last year.

Karin, our CEO, has a background in recruitment within the healthcare sector and has worked on projects and initiatives which use technological advances and ‘the power of the internet’ to solve problems. Therefore, we decided to use her knowledge of technical solutions and my understanding of the education sector to tackle the issue.

Why do you think an organisation like AirSupply is important in the current climate?

There are three reasons why I think now is the right time to launch an initiative like this.

Firstly, schools are facing increasing costs and are having to look at all areas to make savings. So how can we save schools money so they can focus their spending on children and teachers? AirSupply is a solution to help schools to cut unnecessary costs and re-direct their spending on the things that are most important.

Secondly, there is a staffing crisis. Supply teachers can be underpaid and underappreciated and if we are not careful, the sector will lose these valuable teachers. AirSupply is a way of giving supply teachers a chance to control their own destiny again. No one wants to see teachers leaving the profession.

Lastly, traditional agencies charge a transfer fee to convert short term placements to longer ones. AirSupply thinks this is just another barrier preventing schools from combating their recruitment issues and therefore we do not charge a transfer fee. We do not want to stand in the way of teachers progressing their careers or schools solving their recruitment problems.

What are schools telling you are the toughest challenges surrounding recruitment?

The first is that schools want an easy way to meet the demands of short and long term cover which doesn’t cost over the odds. The second is the difficulties moving teachers from temporary to permanent contracts – it’s hard to recruit a good supply teacher into a permanent role because of the – in my opinion, unjustifiably high – transfer fees that get charged by traditional agencies.

AirSupply has a transparent approach to supply cover and actually encourages the temp to permanent conversion. Because we don’t charge a transfer fee, we are enabling schools to recruit for the long term.

Where have you currently launched? How quickly is the company growing?

We will be piloting the system in Croydon and Essex from June. We are hoping to launch nationally in September.

We are growing really quickly. In terms of our own staff, we now have a full team, including COO, Director of Recruitment  and a head of customer service who is an ex-School Business Manager. We also have an advisory panel of headteachers and experts to help inform our progress and choices.

Dozens of teachers are already registered on the system. We are now looking to local schools to help launch the service and help get us off the ground. We will be sending information out to schools before the half term but registering with us is really simple. It only takes 5 minutes as we’ve already set up profiles for most schools.

Why Croydon and the South East?

There are a number of reasons why we picked Croydon. It is extremely well located, and the transport links are fantastic and therefore easy for teachers from all over the South East to get to.

More importantly, Croydon has a reputation for being a centre of innovation with organisations like Octavo leading the way. It has a well organised and active Headteachers’ association, a lively union presence and is a growing borough. We think that Croydon would be the perfect setting to learn from.

Essex is our other pilot area. From our research, we found that recruitment of supply teachers was hardest in urban areas like Croydon, and in larger, rural counties where the schools are spread out. Therefore, we wanted to test both an urban and a rural setting. The system opens up the market for those supply teachers who might not usually be placed as often by agencies and somewhere like Essex is really easy to commute to by car, as well as public transport.

How big is the pool currently?

We have more than 200 supply teachers registered and currently going through the Safer Recruitment process.

What is the average turn-around time once posting a job?

We think this will become more apparent after working in our pilot areas. In theory if you post a role in the morning and need someone that day, you could have matches within minutes. Once a match has been completed both parties are committed to that placement.

In one of our pilot schools, a placement was posted on a Friday for the following Tuesday or Wednesday and they already had a match by the end of that day, which they found really re-assuring going into the weekend.

Can you provide a similar level of quality assurance as an agency? What is the customer ‘not getting’ for the lower fee they are paying you?

A big percentage of the fees charged by agencies goes straight into their pockets, rather than on customer service, which is why their profits are so high! Plus, by designing an online system which automatically does the matching, we work more efficiently than agencies as we aren’t reliant on individuals to do the matching manually.

With regards to quality assurance and customer services, we know that Safer Recruitment is essential to schools and each and every single candidate undergoes these checks. If schools are finding it difficult to use the website the team is on hand to assist.

What offers and discounts are you offering schools as you launch?

The first 25 schools to book through Airsupply will get their first two days of supply free. Those who initially join will be helping us to learn about the process, about what’s working and what isn’t and we want to show our schools how much we value this experience by giving something back.

Lastly, in a nutshell, can you sum up the key benefits for registering with AirSupply?

Lower costs and more control and choice. Ultimately schools can be confident that they are finding the right teacher for the right price.

Air Supply will be launching to Croydon schools in June and nationally in September. For more information and to register visit their website www.airsupply.org.uk.

Helping you to find the right teacher for the right price.