How Many Support Technicians Do I Need?
A common question among K12 tech leaders is: “How many technicians do we need?” It’s a question that can be a head-scratcher, as every school will give you a completely different answer. More often than not, schools are understaffed and not meeting their technical needs.
In this article, we will look at some misconceptions about staffing, explore ways to be more efficient, and finish with the metrics and data that can assist with clarifying the personnel needed for your organization.
There are a couple of numbers that get thrown around about technician or help desk ratios. One technician is needed for every 1,000 users, or one technician for every 1,000 devices. A Robert Half Technology survey from 2017 suggests that a 70:1 employee-to-help desk ratio is suitable. Many of these surveys are from private sector organizations and not K12. These numbers are not very helpful since each school may have completely different needs. Also, help desk needs for staff versus student numbers aren’t made available in really any study. Staff require more help, but we’re also supporting five to ten times as many students as there are staff.
Let’s look at a couple of examples.
School District A:
- 1,500 users
- 1,000 Chromebooks
- 350 desktop computers
- 150 laptops
- 40 printers and copy machines
- 10 servers
- 2 full-time technicians and 1 administrative assistant
School District B:
- 1,500 users
- 1,150 desktop computers
- 350 laptops
- 20 printers and copy machines
- 20 servers
- 3 full-time technicians
Through District A’s observations, Chromebooks generate fewer work orders compared to desktops or laptops. District A may need only one full-time technician and a an administrative assistant. Depending on the warranty of the devices, an administrative position can respond to claims and ship devices for repair. District B would require three full-time technicians to meet its needs due to increased work orders generated from desktops and laptops. (Note: This is an example of the different needs between school districts, and the number of personnel is for demonstration purposes. Depending on the environment, Chromebooks might generate more tickets if there is frequent damage, for example. Do research in your district and determine which devices generate the most tickets.)
A lot of variables can affect the needs of school districts. Each school district has a mix of devices to support — Chromebooks, iPads, Macbooks, desktops, laptops, projectors, interactive whiteboards, printers, phones, network equipment, door security, servers, smartphones, etc. User populations can also be very different and have varying levels of tickets submitted.
Lean and Mean
With no concrete metrics in place and the understanding that every district is different, where do you go from here? First, we’d recommend that you realize as many efficiencies as possible. These efficiencies come in the realms of workflows and staffing structures.
No two techs are the same
Let’s be honest, no two technicians are the same. Each has a unique set of skills and speed at which they work. Some can crank through tickets and deliver an amazing level of service. Others may take more time to complete tickets to deliver the same level of service. Be sure that when hiring, you’re finding the best candidate for the job. If given a choice between a person who lacks experience but has a strong work ethic, versus a person with experience and a mediocre work-ethic, I’d take the person who lacks experience any day. That’s going to be a person who will be willing to learn and get things done for your department. Hiring good candidates can be one of the single biggest factors in taking your department to the next level.
Regardless of where you are, find ways to grow your current staff to help them become more efficient. This can be done with specific feedback, praise for the good things you’ve seen, and providing training in requisite areas.
Centralized or Remote Locations?
Another factor to consider is how centralized the school buildings are. Are they all on one main campus? How many buildings are more remote? This can play a factor in the number of technicians required to meet the school district’s needs. A large district’s geographic size can need more manpower if the school buildings are remote from each other. Are you utilizing remote control software? Remote access has greatly decreased our need to travel by being able to quickly and conveniently log into another computer/device without having to physically be there. Another thing to consider is if travel time and mileage between locations could necessitate hiring another full-time employee (FTE) for the remote locations.
Streamlining Workflows with Automation
Automation can help reduce workloads for a tech department. Tools that can automate user account creation when a new student enrolls or an employee starts a new position can reduce the burden across a support team. A self-password service system for users can reduce workloads for support teams and improve the quality of service with end users.
Internal and External Help
Often districts have people within the organization who can help with low-level technology support. For example, a librarian in a building could help students with password resets. An administrative assistant could process claims on broken devices. Look around your district; there may be people who could help with tasks that can be shared with your department.
When seeking extra help, sometimes it makes sense to look externally. Perhaps you need assistance with tasks that are infrequent or require different expertise than your staff currently has. Some areas to contract may include:
- ERATE consulting
- Cabling or audiovisual installs
- Network management
Your Staffing Equation
Focus on Productivity Metrics
When determining your staffing equation, focus on quantitative and qualitative data. In the quantitative realm, decide how long a standard priority ticket should wait in the queue before action is taken on it. Decide how long that ticket should take to be resolved. And finally, evaluate if you are meeting your current standard. If you are or aren’t meeting this standard, look at if your current staff are being overworked or working overtime.
In the realm of qualitative feedback, gather feedback from various departments across the district and see if they believe that the technology department is responsive to their needs and is meeting district standards.
If you are not meeting those qualitative or quantitative standards, then you may need to hire more staff, focus on training, or implement automation.
Desired Time to respond – Current time to respond = Difference +/-
Desired Time to resolve – Current time to resolve = Difference +/-
Productive Hours Per Employee – Current Productive Hours Per Employee = Difference +/-
Bring Your Research
Don’t go to your central office asking for more staff without being prepared to demonstrate some good reasons you need the extra help. Bring the numbers of those productivity metrics that are not being met and the staff surveys you conducted. Take a look at other school districts in your area or state. Look for districts that are similar in size to your district; how many technicians do they have? That information can be valuable to your central office when deciding whether to add more technical staff.
First, start with some simple steps to figure out how you can become more efficient. These efficiencies can be gained through:
- Hiring the right people who will work with purpose and efficiency.
- Developing your current staff to be the best employees they can be.
- Implementing automation of workflows where possible.
- Using remote support when possible.
- Contracting jobs that your department doesn’t need or want to take on.
- Finding people within your district who can handle low-level tasks such as broken device claims.
Once you’ve trimmed some of the fat and are running leaner, look at the data for what needs you still have. This may includes:
- What is your current level of service, i.e., how many hours is it taking you to fulfill requests?
- Are your employees currently working at capacity or over capacity, and by how many hours?
- Find your targeted level of service (number of hours to fulfill a ticket). This can be found by speaking to your various stakeholders to see if they are satisfied with their level of service.
- Factor in time it takes to travel between buildings and campuses and determine if there would be cost savings by assigning a new FTE to one of those locations.
There is no right answer when it comes to staffing ratios. It will vary from district to district, as every situation is different, but there are some things that can help with the decision-making process. First, you can reduce the need for more staff by implementing automation, remote support, good policies and well-documented procedures. Second, rely on your metrics to determine how many staff you need, such as number of support tickets per day, time spent imaging systems, number of 1:1 devices, and whether infrastructure projects are outsourced.