Every year, schools spend more than £2 billion on agency staff, with over £600 million of that per year spent on recruitment agency fees.
That’s according to Zen Educate, an online staffing platform whose mission is to change the world of education recruitment. Founded in 2017, Zen Educate allows schools to connect with vetted teachers and supply staff directly through its platform.
Zen Educate uses the TravelTime API to match teachers to the most relevant teaching jobs based on how easily accessible a potential school is.
Rethinking education recruitment
Traditionally, schools have used recruitment agencies to source supply teachers and staff. However, this process is heavily manual, phone-based and paper-based. Additionally, finding teachers that are available nearby can be tricky.
“There are lots of marketplace platforms where it doesn't really matter where you are,” says Jono Hey, Chief Product Officer at Zen Educate. “But if we have a teacher who is in East London and a school needs somebody in West London, that may be too far for the person to get to. So, travel is a huge factor in whether placements can be filled.”
Teachers looking for short-term, long-term or permanent roles can start by registering online. After completing necessary checks and an initial qualifying call with the Zen Educate team, they can then be booked by schools.
“We also have last-minute placements, where schools need teachers to get there as soon as possible. It makes a huge difference if you can tell somebody whether the location is 10 minutes around the corner or whether they’re an hour away.”
However, using traditional straight-line distance wouldn’t give teachers an accurate view of how easily they can travel to a school. This is because distance doesn’t consider critical factors like transport networks. A candidate may seem to be far away when using miles or kilometres but, thanks to transport links, actually has a relatively quick commute.
“One of the biggest issues for teachers looking for work is being offered jobs that are beyond the distances that they want to travel,” says Jono. “If you're a teacher looking for work, or you're doing a short-term placement, you're constantly getting pinged about roles that are very often not relevant for you.”
Matching teachers to the most relevant roles using commute time data
As a result, Zen Educate needed a simple way to match teachers with the most relevant jobs based on journey time. To achieve this, they chose to use the TravelTime API.
“Travel time was something that we built into our platform from the beginning, and it certainly differentiates us from any of the existing solutions before us,” says Jono. Implementing the TravelTime API was straightforward, and the process was completed in just two days.
Integrating travel time data into Zen Educate’s algorithms and recommendations means that teachers can now choose their travel time and transport preferences. This increases the relevancy of the opportunities that they are shown.
“Some teachers are happy to cycle while others will only drive. Some schools have parking, while some don’t. We give teachers complete control over their travel preferences and being able to incorporate that into the travel times we suggest is key."
The platform’s algorithms use a blend of travel time data and other factors, such as if a candidate has worked at a school before or has been favourited by a school. However, weight is given to the teachers’ travel time preferences.
For teachers who are open to a range of transport options, the platform’s sorting algorithm will display the transport option that offers the quickest travel time. The algorithm also considers unique scenarios: for example, if driving time is the fastest option but there’s no parking at the school, it will suggest an alternative transport mode.
Similarly, when a permanent role is added to the platform, checking who would be a good match is based, in part, on whether it is within a teacher’s travel preferences. To achieve this, the algorithm cross-references each new role added to the platform against the travel times for each teacher. Based on this, it can suggest the roles to the relevant profiles.
“Travel time data helps us refine our search so that a teacher can look at their jobs tab and see a list of relevant opportunities without having to filter the search themselves,” says Jono. “The list they get is based on the opportunities being a sensible commute for them from the start.”
Delivering more relevant job search results and a seamless user experience
Zen Educate has seen a significant improvement in the user experience since implementing the TravelTime API on its platform. This is because only the most relevant jobs are suggested to teachers.
“Each year, the average travel time for a long-term job that a candidate has got through the platform has gone down,” says Jono.
“This tells us that the user experience is getting better for our teachers because they’re getting jobs that are closer to them. They’re travelling fewer miles every single day, which is great.”
Another benefit is the ability to combine the different combinations of postcodes.
As Jono explains, “Rather than doing 50 separate calls to check the travel times for 50 separate teachers, we can do one call using the school's postcode, enter the postcode of all the different teachers and get back all of the different travel times and transport methods. Being able to do that in one batch has greatly simplified what we were doing before.”
Through the TravelTime API, the platform can also run matches for jobs that have been posted overnight.
Before, the platform relied on performing distance and travel calls on demand. This meant that an API call would be made only once a search was done on the platform. Now, with the API, this can be done at any time.
“This has helped us continually improve our matching. Now, teachers can see their best matches at any time they are on the platform. It’s efficient because you can pair all of those thousands of postcode combinations. That has been a big benefit – we wouldn’t have been able to tackle that without TravelTime.”
What’s next for Zen Educate?
Going forward, the team plans to use more TravelTime functionality, such as the ability to create isochrone maps.
“That will give teachers on our platform even more visibility into the impact of their travel preferences and help them understand how travel times affect their likelihood of getting work,” explains Jono.
“We’ll be able to use our data to help them decide whether they’re willing to travel a little longer to get more requests from schools – for example, if you're willing to travel 45 minutes instead of 30 minutes, you’re likely to get more requests.”
Currently operating in London, Manchester and Birmingham, Zen Educate plans to expand its operations to other cities.
The company has also launched Zen Locum, a platform that matches pharmacies and opticians with qualified pharmacists and optometrists. Zen Locum also uses the TravelTime API to help users of the platform find the best opportunities closest to them.
“Our experience with TravelTime meant that we were able to get up and running very quickly with Zen Locum,” says Jono. “Over the coming years, if we look at expanding either platform internationally, since the TravelTime API covers other countries as well, that will be a huge advantage.”