Education and Employers Taskforce Research Conference 2010: Live blog

15 October 2010

The point of partnership: understanding employer engagement in education


What a day. 135 delegates, from all walks of employer-education life, 24 high-quality presentations, and two sobering but inspiring big-picture keynote addresses. To get a blow-by-blow account, scroll down the page. If I had a single takeaway message, it would be the number of people who commented on how good it was to see such a balanced mix of different stakeholder groups, and how well the presentations managed to appeal to academics, brokers, practitioners and policy-makers alike.

For a blow-by-blow account, scroll down this page. You can also check out:

Thanks to all who attended, and especially our speakers, sponsors and hosts. We hope that this is the start of a new community of interest: watch this space for more…

10.45 am

Hello, this is Dave, Christian and Ashley from the Education and Employers Taskforce. Welcome to the Taskforce Research Conference Liveblog. The aim of this blog is to allow as many people as possible to follow the events of the day in real(ish) time, and to have an as-it-happens record after the day is done. We will be bringing you highlights from presentations, links to other relevant research, and anything else that we think will give a good flavour of the conference.

The aim of this conference is to help foster a community of interest around employer engagement in education, bringing together academics, analysts, teachers, employers, brokers, policy-makers and other stakeholders. With the esteemed organisations and presentations today we have no doubt it will be a great day discussing the issues and topics at hand.


Wow. If I had to use one word about Prof. Hugh Lauder’s opening keynote, it would be ‘sobering’. Hugh is one of the foremost experts on global labour markets and skills formation, and the picture he painted of this country’s economic prospects suggested that there is big thinking to be done at all levels if we are to remain competitive.

The models Hugh referred to from his research around the world suggested that there are various possible models for ensuring successful skills formation – look out on his slides for the fascinating section on ‘inside out’ approaches in India, where great leaps forward are being made without the kind of infrastructure long assumed to be a prerequisite.

The relevance if this context to education-employer engagement is manifold, and something we will elaborate on throughout the day. I was particularly interested that Graham Lane, Chair of Chairs of the Diploma Development Partnerships, did not use the word ‘sobering’ as he walked past our log station – his choice was ‘inspiring’ (though it was said with a sober look!)

It is heartening that Hugh sees such value in this conference today, and more importantly in the idea of increased and improved dialogue and partnership between education and employers. For a summary of this, see his foreword to the 2nd edition of What is to be gained.


Hugh’s slides are here.


Just finished listening to Louise Archer of Kings College speak about ‘aspiration’ — a term used to describe how youth conceptualise their future achievement and role in the workforce- also one that is a bit controversial in it connotation. Much of her research focuses on the complex structural layers that inform a child’s or student’s aspirations. A great point of this is that the challenge of employers and educators even, in trying to tackle inequality not just between students but between popularity of professions and sectors, what is seen as ‘creative’ or ‘successful’ or ‘intellectual’.

Particularly she covered the issue of science, maths, and technology, and what these topics ‘are’ and ‘where they can take you’ and how these perceptions alone, built by teachers, parents, community, even employers funnel students’ aspirations. She also spoke about the issue of cultural identity on the whole [she references her paper ‘Challenging Classes? : Exploring the Role of Social Class within the Identities and Achievement of British Chinese Pupils’.

It’s a decently complicated area and has many empirical challenges in isolating these influences, but Louise has done a lot of work on this topic that you can see in the video of her presentation. Off to lunch and another session for now, we hope to report back with more in a bit.


Chris Percy, Taskforce analyst, has just been talking about the link between part-time working during years 9 to 11 and time spent NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training). Chris’s analysis uses a very large dataset to see the link between the two, and suggests that there is a strong correlation between a small number of weekly hours’ paid work and reduced time NEET, though interestingly this effect does not apply to young people from the most deprived backgrounds.

Right, we all badly need a bit of lunch. Ashley is salivating over the fried brie wedges with chutney… See you again in half an hour or so.


We’re also busy rendering the video from earlier in the day, so keep an eye out for some audivisual content this afternoon…


Comments from our first Keynote, Hugh Lauder, of the University of Bath are available.

And now to the post-lunch sessions; will be hearing about new graduates and employability skills, benefits of employer engagement, and strategic placement of talent and skills within organisations…


For anyone who would like to see the papers that today’s presentations are based on, we are putting them up on the Conference Programme page as they come in.


Pat Morton of Sheffield Hallam University has just finished talking about progammes designed to encourage more women into STEM careers. Has the ‘huge programme’ of activity, much of it engaging employers, worked? Work experience can have a real impact on pupils – if handled right, but it is very strongly gendered – 95 per cent of engineering WEX goes to boys, and the segregation effect is greatest in the most disadvantaged schools. And in sum, class reproduces through work experience – working class children get what working class placements. Sue also outlined how families are of real importance in determining access to WEX placements.

Pat reported back on the impact of the highly managed WEX scheme run in South Yorkshire – and the way Diplomas have been a means to address inequalities and imbalances in placements and so gender stereotyping. Arrangements work best where schools and EBPOs work closely together to source placements; employers actively manage placements (and SMEs can do it as well large ones). This all raises the question of whether our national infrastructure is equipped to challenge the effects of inequalities and to offer young people information, encouragement and networks that help nurture the breadth of career choices and turn them into a reality.

3.00 pm

Ah, employability skills. I was very keen on seeing this session as being not too far of the recent-graduate path myself. Kevin Lowden of the Univeristy of Glasglow presented his research built around ongoing case studies with employers, and what they look for in graudates, and how this corresponds with education. The paper is not published as of yet, but had points about the need for extracurricular and how universities need to encourage students to understand the transferability of their skills, and how to frame them in a applicable way for employers.

I think this is tremendously important and one thing that not only that session demonstrated but a theme in my own experience. Its often echoed the need not just for narrowed technical skill, but employers seeking out soft skills – leadership, communication, time management, decision making. What has become my question is the quickest and highest impact way to communicate these skills to employers, and other than these old methods of cover letters and CVs boasting diverse involvement in ‘extra-curricular activites’. It’s curious to know how employers actually do clock these in recruitment. These are all issues that The Education and Employers Taskforce actually outline in the What is to be gained? research paper on relationships between academic institutions.

I am actually excited to read the final paper from Mr Lowden. Employability often sparks the notion of someone who will do well in the work place, but as he spoke about today, it is also about what these perceptions are with employers — what experiences bring the right ‘skills’? How do they define those skills? Hopefully this will lead to telling information on what is and isn’t working in the recruitment process for graduates that can be incorporated into the mission of our own organisation in bridging that gap…


Julian Stanley, the new head of the CEI at University of Warwick (our kind hosts) tells the camera about the CEI, and the role employer engagement can increase social mobility, and the need for further research.

Julian also has this to say on the session he chaired this afternoon:

“Very exciting session on school-based WRL (Work-related learning) in Canada, It revealed the strength of a local school-based system driven by teachers with strong links to vocational practice. Programmes include skills development, employability development, and lots of authetic, real-world tasks. The system is very successful at supporting the progress of students into part-time and full-time employment. The Q&A then explored the possible policy implications for England.

Stephanie Allais’s presentation had an even more international approach. It presented a great opportunity to find out about the global sread of National Qualifications Frameworks, and to gain critical insight into the extent to which they are meeting their objectives. The evidence suggests that in most countries NQFs are not delivering higher skills, or more valid qualifications, or indeed better employer inputs. Only in Scotland does the NQF appear to be working well, in large part because there is such a strong input from the institutions involved in teachig, trainging and qualification design.”


Hans van der Loo, from Shell and the European Round Table of Industrialists, warned everyone of the resource pressure in the future and the need for long, 20 year “pipelines” all through school and university to bring in the best talent – which, he explained, can only succeed through education-employer partnerships.

This final keynote speech echoed the challenges of the first. With the challenges of globalisation, resource and uneven job markets, it is easy to be pessimistic. But Hans brought good news of a new European Coordinating Body, bringing new resource and the sharing of ideas across Europe in this important area. Too early for confidence perhaps, but the talks throughout the day and the interest from the highest levels of government in Europe give good reason for optimism.

4.55 pm

It turns out that Nick Chambers, Director of the Taskforce, once brought a group of his school students to an eco-car competition that Shell still runs today. Needless to say, his team didn’t quite manage the 3880 km/litre record of eco-cars at Shell. Back to the drawing board, Nick.

5.30 pm

Hans Van der Loo talked about the need to nurture and sustain talent, especially the ingenuity and innovation needed to overcome the worlds challenges. However, it brings up the question as to what about all the over-qualified and underpaid graduates now going into the workforce? There is an issue of providing more opportunity where there is none, but recognising as well, that ingenuity and innovation in a busted economy is hardly rewarded.

This at least stood out to me (Ashley) as a large issue in the current market. We all talk at length about the gaps in the education system, those which do not allow us to reach our greatest potential, yet the recruitment for professional careers is stagnant, regimented, and limiting. In my experience and often voiced among those I know who are desperate for work, well below their pay grade, they are simply too scared to risk breaking the hiring culture that is encouraged in school: write a cover letter with XYZ points, have a CV that emphasies A and B but not C or D, and in your interview answer questions accordingly.

If we’re teaching an equation and using an equation to hire, and find talent, how can we expect it to highlight the soft skills that are being oft spoken about for the market: creativity, reasoning skills, versatile communication, or even leadership. For me, the start of his talk certainly spurred my question for employers as to how they are sowing creativity and innovation; I thought I hope to detail further in my own blog.

6.00 pm

The conference has drawn to a close with the esteemed Hans Van der Loo, Vice President, EU Liaison for Shell International, ending the day with a talk that harked back to Hugh Lauder’s opener, drawing the discussion on Skills formation back to the broader context of global challenges. While Hugh looked at Britain’s economic challenges, Hans discussed the problems of climate change, resource scarcity and growing populations as a background it is so vital that STEM employers manage the ‘talent pipeline’ proactively.

Fostering and strategically utilising skills, talent, and ingenuity is essential to a sustainable future, not just the green kind, but societal and cultural too.

Hans emphasised the need to build ‘unusual coalitions’, between governments, schools, citizen groups, academia and industry, in order to tackle long-term systemic problems in a pragmatic yet progressive way.

Hans is sherpa to Shell International’s CEO on the European Roundtable of Industrialists, whose recommendation for a Europe-wide coordinating body for STEM employer-education links will be implemented in January 2011. This body will have 9million Euros of funding over three years, partly from the EU and partly from major STEM employers, in order to consolidate links in the sector, collate reserach and spread best practice. To find out more, download Hans’s powerpoint presentation.


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