From work experience to masterclasses: new ETF research provides key guidance for effective employer engagement

Ensuring the individual interests, aspirations and needs of employers, providers and learners are aligned is key to the success of employer engagement activities for 16 and 17-year-olds below Level 2 – according to a new report and guidance document commissioned by the Education and Training Foundation (ETF) to support the successful implementation of the proposed Transition Offer.

The research, which was published in June, was carried out by the Learning and Work Institute (L&W) and draws on interviews with learners, providers and employers from 63 organisations from across the Further Education and Skills sector.

The report identifies that a tailored and personalised approach is a critical success factor in securing good outcomes for 16 and 17-year-olds who are not yet ready to study at Level 2.

Practical guidance for providers on how to design and deliver effective activities is set out in an accompanying guide, alongside 25 case studies demonstrating effective practice and innovation from a range of learning providers, which include mock-interviews with employers and online-matching of learners with employers.

The ETF commissioned the L&W to conduct research in November 2017 to identify effective practice in order to support the successful implementation of the proposed transition offer for young people who are not yet ready to study at Level 2 at age 16/17. As well as guiding providers, the report provides policy and practice recommendations for the wider sector to support the development of a transition offer model which will offer tailored and flexible support for learners.

Key guidance for providers includes:

  • Developing a strategic approach to engaging employers effectively in provision, and involving employers in the planning of engagement activities to secure buy-in and ensure activities are focused, realistic and maximise impact for both parties.
  • Effective assessment and preparation of the learner, including the development of employability skills, and resilience and confidence building.
  • Careful sequencing of activities, including short, focused encounters with employers before the full work experience period, and, in some cases, internal work experience first.
  • Fully briefing employers on learners’ employability levels and support needs ahead of the engagement.

The Activities represented in the guide showcase both effectiveness and innovation, including masterclasses from industry professionals, networking events with employers, employer carousels, mentoring, mock interviews, speed interviews, skills events and competitions, and project/task briefs, in which employers provide young people with ‘live’ briefs or genuine commissions for products their business needs.

Alison Morris, Director of Sector Development at the Education and Training Foundation, said:

“Successful employer engagement activities can provide clear benefits not just for learners, but for employers and learning providers too.

“This research provides the sector with an in-depth understanding of effective practice in employer engagement, as well as offering providers guidance on how to build a strategic approach which meets learners’ needs and interests, addresses employers’ motivations for engaging, and aligns with the provider’s wider priorities.

“The case studies add excellent examples of practice, demonstrating innovation as well as effectiveness, from across the sector.”

For the wider sector, the report recommends the transition offer should prepare learners for technical education and employment in the broadest sense, equipping them with general employability skills and exposing them to a range of occupational sectors, in order to inform their decision about which technical pathway to pursue. The report concluded that while the transition year could follow a general structure, it is important that this is not viewed as a ‘one size fits all’ model, and that the programme, activities and support offered are tailored to the needs of learners, providers and employers.

Case studies selected for the guide include:

    • Barking and Dagenham College – a General Further Education College – which offers paid work experience via the college’s subsidiary company ‘Aspire’, which matches students to live project briefs set by internal and external employers. Aspire is a matching tool whereby, if, for example, the local authority wants to repaint one of their community centres, they’ll put it on there, and then students can pitch for the business. Barking and Dagenham also provides work experience in the college’s on-site retail outlets, that are run by students and include an IT repairs shop, a florist, a photography shop and a stationery shop that is run by students with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND). These provide opportunities for students of all abilities to work with those from other levels and thus helps foster peer to peer mentoring
    • Oldham Sixth Form College, which has been successfully engaging with employers through networking events focused on various priority sectors. Employers meet with a small group of young people who are interested in pursuing a career in their industry and share their success stories to inspire and teach them about the roles available, as well as the skills they need to develop.
    • Barnet and Southgate College is a General Further Education College in London. The college runs a six-week employability course that prepares learners for work experience by focusing on employability skills, and involves employers in this course through their engagement in mock interviews with students. These activities are included in the preparatory course to gradually introduce students to employers, building up to more intense contact through work experience.
    • Kingston College, which holds hour-long career sessions twice a week in which employers give talks to learners on careers in their industry. Learners are able to hear employers’ personal stories of how they overcame barriers to succeed.

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