How to make the most of employer engagement: six tips from the research for school and college staff

By Anthony Mann

Over recent years, UK and international research has made a consistent and compelling case that the quantity and quality of employer engagement experienced by young people while in school or college makes a significant difference to how well they do in the world of work in their twenties.  Education and Employers Research works closely with the Inspiring the Future team and scholars from around the world to improve understanding of the impacts of employer engagement and how it can be made to happen as efficiently, effectively and equitably as possible.  Here are six insights from research for staff in schools and colleges planning employer engagement activities:

  1. A lot of little goes a long way when it comes to employer engagement

Young adults who have greater levels of contact with employers whilst at school are significantly less likely to be NEET and can expect, when in full-time employment, to earn up to 18% more than peers who had no such workplace exposure.  Where young people learn about the working world through authentic interactions with people whose views they feel they can trust, they have much to gain.  More is more.  It’s like throwing mud at a wall, the more that is thrown, the more likely that something or real value sticks.

Read more: Employer Engagement in British Secondary Education: Wage Earning Outcomes Experienced by Young Adults

  1. Start young and make them think about what they’ve learnt

The effects of employer engagement can be witnessed most powerfully in influencing attitudes and assumptions which young people begin forming from early childhood (primary years): do girls really become engineers or boys work in childcare? Is it only scientists, science teachers and doctors who need science subjects for work?  What are the real world uses of Maths and English?  What’s the point of studying a foreign language?  Delivering workplace experiences in the context of thoughtful careers provision makes it is easier for young people to make the most of lessons learnt.  A key question for pupils is: did you find out anything new and useful from the experience?

Read more: The ‘Employer Engagement Cycle’ in Secondary Education: Analysing the testimonies of young British adults

  1. Pupils should do a load of different things over their school lives

Teachers with first-hand experience of a wide range of employer engagement activities (careers events, enterprise days, work experience, workplace visits, mentoring etc) argue that different ones are more effective in achieving different outcomes like increasing attainment, helping in decision-making or improving employability skills. Mix it up to in terms of activities to get the best results.

Read more: Employer engagement in education

  1. Schools should do something about the fact that all kids are not the same

Where a pupil is from (socially, economically, geographically) influences their access to, and interaction with, employer engagement opportunities at home and in school, especially when it comes to work experience. Employer engagement should be thought of as a resource.  Some young people need more help than others from schools in accessing experiences of real value which speak to their emerging ambitions.  We should think about it as a resource which different young people have access to in different amounts through their home lives.  If schools want to challenge social disadvantage, they shouldn’t ask kids to source their own work experience and they should act to compensate for lack of family ties.

Read more: The Work Experience Placements of Secondary School Students: Widening Horizons or Reproducing Social Inequality?

  1. Young people’s view of the labour market is like seeing the world through Mr Magoo glasses – they need help to get perspective

Ask teenagers where their aspirations lie and one-third are chasing just ten jobs. Most young people have an incredibly poor understanding of the labour market, their career aspirations routinely have nothing in common with projected labour market demand. With teenage part-time working rapidly dying out, schools are more important than ever in helping explore young people to get any taste of the working world and to explore its breath. If pupils are clustering around a small number of career ambitions like they might run after a football, it’s not a good sign that they are taking a sufficiently active interest in thinking about career ambitions and how they might relate to what they do in school.  Employers need to step up to help amplify their own opportunities if they are going to compete for the attention of the next generation.  We need to focus as much, if not more, on broadening aspirations as raising them and start that process from an early age, ideally from the primary years, to help pupils see the relationship between subjects and the world of work from early on.

Read more: Nothing in Common: The Career Aspirations of Young Britons Mapped Against Projected Labour Market Demand 2010-2020

  1. They don’t know what they don’t know – sometimes a little coercion is right and proper

Assumptions shape attitudes and attitudes guide decisions and the assumptions that teenagers have about jobs and careers are often very deeply held. Research highlights the long term significance of assumptions, for example, about the type of people who go to University or do an Apprenticeship, the sorts of careers pursued by boys or girls, whether ‘people like me’ do science or not. Career carousels where pupils work their way around a room spending 5-10 minutes with volunteers from a wide variety of different careers is a perfect way to challenge often unspoken assumptions and build confidence through speaking and listening.

Read more: ASPIRES Young people’s science and career aspirations, 10-14

To find more about what the research has to say, visit our unique (free) library to access scores of research papers and resources relevant to anyone interested in helping young people to make the most of their employer contacts and/or sign up for our free regular e-bulletin with research updates.