Chart showing upward trends in the ESL industry.

Researching Employment Trends In ESL

Before looking for a new job it is important to understand the different employment trends that affect the specific industry you are looking into. This is especially true in the TEFL industry which is constantly going through change. Every decade there are new countries rising up into the top places to teach list and countries which used to be on that list falling off. We’re going to take a look at a few of the different factors that play into these employment trends and how you can spot up and coming countries that will provide lucrative opportunities for teachers as well as understand changes that you can expect in the industry as a whole.

How has the TEFL industry changed?

The TEFL industry has evolved quite considerably since the first westerners began to travel abroad to teach English. Many of the first westerners who pursued English teaching did so as missionaries and not as paid teachers. The industry has evolved greatly since then into a multi-billion dollar titan. English teaching in our modern day is big business. As with any other big business, the opportunity to make money is present if you look at the right factors and keep up with changes.

One of the major changes which any teacher must keep up with is which countries are paying the most for teachers. This list is changing every five to ten years as economies change and new countries begin to move up on the economic ladder.

An example of this is Japan, which, only a few decades ago was one of, if not the best, places to teach English and make a fair amount of money. Now then, you will be lucky to put even a little money in the bank as stagnating wages for English teachers have not kept up with the rising cost of living. Instead, China has moved up as the top place to teach English in East Asia as they have invested considerable amounts of money in bringing over English teachers to educate the massive population.

The United Arab Emirates is another example of a country that only a few decades ago wasn’t even on the radar for teachers. Now then, it is one of the top places in the world, if not the top, for highly qualified teachers who are looking to make lots of money with considerable benefits.

Perhaps, however, the biggest change in the ESL industry that has come in our modern era is teaching English online. While this is an area of the industry that is still in its infancy, it is poised to be a driving force moving forward.

These changes are happening all of the time and teachers who kept up with these changes have been able to continually breath new life into their career while making considerable amounts of money. However, teachers who didn’t pay attention to these changes have faced stagnating wages, diminished benefits, and, depending on where they lived, a rising cost of living not proportionate to their salary.

How can I keep up with these changes?

International News

The answer to this question is surprisingly simple. You look in the normal places you look at when reading news. It isn’t necessarily about where you are looking. Instead, it is about how you are looking at the information.

Economic reports for emerging markets, for example, may not directly have anything to do with teaching English abroad. However, upon further inspection, you can easily see that a country where the primary spoken language is not English that is going through a major economic uptrend will most likely be looking for teachers to come in and teach English in order to increase the ability of its citizens to conduct business and trade. China is a great example of this as was Korea.

Both nations quickly went from bottom level economies to powerhouses in the international market and both countries had, and still have, strong demand for English teachers to keep their population competitive internationally and help students to obtain admission into top-level universities.

Local News

Another great place to keep up with trends is through local news. I’m not referring to your local news here. Instead, by looking at the local news in countries that are known for hiring teachers or in emerging markets, you can get a feel for changes that may positively or negatively affect English teachers.

This can include anything from changes in visa regulations to education reform that may positively or negatively affect English teachers who are currently in or wish to soon work in the respective country.

A great example of this sort of information is regulations which were enacted in China in 2018 requiring online teachers to have proper certifications to work. This affected hundreds of thousands of teachers around the world and was reported mainly in Chinese publications.

Other types of local reporting that has, in the past, affected English teachers is in Thailand when new regulations were put into place requiring all public schools to have at least one foreign English teacher. This opened the doors for thousands of teachers to enter the country and work.

If the news you are looking for isn’t published in English you can still access it by viewing through the Chrome browser and having it translated into English. Simply right click on the page and click “translate to English”.

Forums and Social Media Groups

This should be a last resort. There is a lot of very good information that can be obtained through English teacher forums like Dave’s ESL Cafe or social media groups on sites like Reddit and Facebook. However, the problem becomes separating the good information from the bad.

There is a lot of information coming from teachers who are in the know in different countries. Just the same, there is a lot of information that is passed on from barstool philosophers talking about speculative information they really don’t know anything about. You just never know who is who and sometimes it is best to just not believe any of it.

Perhaps a better use for these areas is for discussion of teaching methods and for receiving helpful information about travel and living rather than as a place for news.

What kind of information should I look for?

Much of this has already been discussed, however, there are a few signs that are great indicators of the trends that are happening, or will soon happen, in the industry as a whole and in each country. Some of these are economic indicators. Others are political indicators. But all of them can be great in understanding what is going on in the TEFL industry and where things are going.

Economic Indicators

As mentioned, various economic indicators are great in revealing emerging markets for teaching and markets that may soon be non-viable. A current example of this is China. The Chinese government has allocated significant amounts of money in the Guangzhou area in order to make it a business and technology hub. A portion of this money has also been allocated to education. This includes English education.

What this means is that there will soon be a large number of well-paying positions opening up in this area for qualified teachers. This is one example of economic news that has a major impact for TEFL teachers in a positive way.

There are also negative economic indicators which can impact teachers. As mentioned above, Japan used to be one of the best places to teach English abroad. However, after a major financial crisis across the whole of Asia during the ’90s, it became a less attractive place to work due to wage stagnation and significant increases in the cost of living.

These are the types of economic indicators you want to look out for. Those that will have a positive or negative impact on an English teacher and the ability to make and save money as well as find work.

Political Indicators

Just as there are various economic indicators that can be helpful in figuring out the trends happening in different countries, so too are there political indicators that can be great in figuring out where the ESL industry in a particular country is headed.

A great example of this is Myanmar. Up until 2011, the country was completely closed off to outsiders and to tourism and business. In 2011, a new government took over which began the process of opening up the country to tourism and foreign business. Part of this opening up has led to an increased demand for foreigners who can teach English to the local population. While most of these positions are relatively low paying when compared to other markets, the ESL industry in this country is still in its infancy and there is potential for more lucrative positions to open up in the future. This is an example of a positive political indicator that can be of benefit to foreign English teachers.


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