The benefits of employer encounters have been clear for some time, yet this is one of the Gatsby benchmarks that schools tend to struggle with. According to State of the Nation 2017, only ‘37% of schools report that the overwhelming majority or all of their students have at least one meaningful encounter every year that they are at school.’
If 63% of schools should do better on employer encounters, what should they be doing and where should they start?
In some ways, the easy part of the process is making the employer links. Whether using old contacts or reaching out to new ones, many employers are happy to help.
For those who’d prefer some support, there are plenty of organisations offering assistance. Depending on the type of organisation you work at and what is available locally, you may be able to access support from some, or all, of the following:
- Enterprise Adviser Network (in addition to linking with an Enterprise Adviser, look out for any grant-funded projects operating in your area)
- Stem Ambassadors
- Inspiring the Future
- Speakers 4 Schools
- Social Mobility Pledge
- Future First and other alumni organisations
- Programmes like IGD’s Feeding Britain’s Future and Tomorrow’s Engineers
- Ambassador schemes like I Care…Ambassadors and Go Construct Ambassadors
- National Careers Service Inspiration Agenda – search for your local contractor
- Jobcentre+ Support for Schools – make contact with your local DWP School Adviser.
However you reach your employers, don’t underestimate the time required to ensure the encounters have impact. Using a service like those listed above takes the work out of finding an employer; it doesn’t necessarily reduce the work involved in planning an activity and making it fit. Even fully-formed projects need to be adapted to the needs of the students and the school.
Much of the groundwork in this process is about learning the needs and demands of the other party. School timetables and calendars can be rigid and inflexible, with some activities planned months ahead. Employers can’t always commit so far in advance, or may be forced to rearrange last minute to meet the demands of their business or their clients. Both sides need to understand each other’s foibles and special requirements in order for this to work.
Things can, and do, go wrong. A low turnout for an after-school careers talk, a poor attitude from a mentee or work experience student: these things can sour a relationship, particularly if the employer is new to working with the school or college or isn’t clear on what to expect. An honest briefing and clear dialogue before and after can make a difference. After all, most things are easier at work when you know what to expect.
Ask for help
Some of the best employer links can come from the direct approach. After all, if you don’t ask….
Clear and concise
Everyone is busy, so it helps to be clear about what you want. It is much easier for an employer to say yes when they know precisely what is required and when and where it will take place.
Cast the net wide
Use every contact: alumni, school suppliers, friends and family of staff, local businesses, parents and carers.
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is your friend
Increasingly, businesses are choosing to work with their local communities; in some cases, their contracts demand this. Working with a school or college might help a business, as well as bringing benefits to the students. And, if all goes well, a relationship that begins through CSR might even develop into something longer-term.
Brief your students
Students need to be aware that, in most cases, the employers they meet through school are not paid to get involved. You’ll also need to make sure that students are briefed about what to expect and ready to make the most of the experience.
Brief your employer
How long will the students listen for? Would some props or visuals bring the session to life? Will the group get involved? Share this with the employer, but don’t forget the practical stuff: what are the tech requirements, should they bring ID, where will they park, and are they likely to get a cuppa? For the link to be sustainable, it will need to be mutually beneficial, so be sure to find out what the employer wants to get out of the experience too.
Ask your teachers
Getting teaching staff on board is essential. They know what works for their students and where an employer encounter could fit into their curriculum, so ask them what they need (and then make sure you can deliver it).
Developing positive employer links and encounters for all students requires considerable time and effort, along with the support of senior leadership. There is no quick fix to this, but there is much to be gained.
When the stars align and an employer pitches it just right for the student in front of them, or when a connection is made that could open up a new opportunity, that’s when inspiration happens. Sometimes, you can almost see the lightbulb moment, and then all the hard work is worth it.
Blog written by Cerys Evans, independent careers adviser and writer.