Why conference about Employer Engagement in Education?

In this blog, conference chair Anthony Mann explains the ambition of the conference and encourages scholars and researchers to join international discussions and offer a paper.

The call for papers for the London Conference on Employer Engagement in Education and Training is open until 31 March.

This summer will see an unprecedented coming together of researchers, policy makers and practitioners, from around the world, united by a desire to better understand what happens when young people engage directly with employers within their schooling and training, and how any positive benefits can be delivered as effectively, efficiently and equitably as possible. The London Conference on Employer Engagement in Education and Training takes place on 21 and 22 July at the conference centre of the Department of Business Innovation and Skills and with the kind support of both that department and the Department for Education. Representatives from both Departments will take part in the conference as will senior representatives of Ofsted, the Careers and Enterprise Company, the National Association of Head Teachers and the UK Commission for Employment and Skills. Such support illustrates the ways in which the subject has become a ‘hot topic’ of policy makers in the UK and further afield.  Coming to London on 21 and 22 July will be senior representatives from a range of leading international bodies working at the cutting edges of policy development:

Further participants are being regularly confirmed. For researchers, then, as well as providing an excellent opportunity to meet and engage with peers from a wide range of disciplines (e.g. Education Policy, Sociology, Gender Studies, Economics, Human Resource Management), the conference provides a rare opportunity for scholars to engage in debates of real importance in terms of policy and practice.

Coming together in July will be a community of interest united by desire to solve problems held in common as informed by high quality research and experience of practice. In the field of employer engagement in education, there is a huge appetite for better research to steer effective practice. In the conference, we aim to present and make sense of some of the most relevant and reliable evidence available anywhere in the world.  Our ambition, as at our previous conferences, is to identify and amplify work of real importance.

As at previous conferences, dissemination of valuable insights will be a priority this July.  Papers from previous conferences have been included in the Routledge collection: Understanding Employer Engagement in Education  and a special edition of the Journal of Education and Work.  Video from previous conferences has been watched on thousands of occasions. At Education and Employers, it is part of our charitable mission to support new research and bring excellent studies to the easy attention of people well placed to do something useful with the information.

The idea of employer engagement in education itself is not, of course, new – when the UK government first introduced national funding to support work experience placements in the 1960s it drew in part on evidence of practice in the United States and Sweden. What is new is a clear understanding of connecting young people with the world of work as part of their schooling has a profound strategic importance to the effective operation of a fair and efficient economy.

Fifty years ago, the first British teenagers to experience state funded work experience placements lived in a world where the great majority of young people would be expected to leave education at 15 or 16 and move straight into employment.  In this culture, the primary purpose of employer engagement was to give young people experience of the sorts of jobs that would be available to them when they themselves left school.  The aim was to help prepare them for employment by giving the, authentic, protected experiences of real jobs.

Skip forward to the 2010s and much has changed. The labour market in the UK and many other OECD countries no longer generates much demand for the labour of 16 year olds. Staying on to 18 is now the norm in many countries with very large proportions of teenagers going on to study at university often at the expense of vocational education and training routes. However, as a collective, young people have never entered the labour market with more years of education, and qualifications, to their names and yet in many countries in spite of such high human capital, they face historic levels of post-war difficulty in breaking into sustained employment.

The phenomenon of graduates struggling to find work whilst employers struggle to fill jobs speaks to a widespread recognition that governments need to address the breadth of skills developed by education systems as well as their level.  What’s more, awareness has grown that talent does not always naturally flow to the top in a democratic society.  Access to many of the best paying, most attractive, high status jobs is distorted by social background. When looking at who joins the elite professions, the playing field is not level. Who you know matters as well as what you know. Looking at the ways that education and employment have changed over recent decades in response to the powerful forces of technological change, increasing globalisation, labour market deregulation and growing inequality, the strategic purpose of employer engagement in education has become sharper.

In planning the conference, a review of government policies highlighted the uses of employer engagement in education then as a means to:

  • tackle skills shortage/skills mismatch
  • improve youth skills relevant to dynamic labour market demand
  • harness community resources to improve attainment
  • put coherent pathways in place for young people moving through educational and training provision
  • address inequalities in outcomes, promoting social mobility and challenging gender stereotyping.

These are significant policy objectives and papers addressing these and other themes surrounding the subject are warmly welcome. The (modest) conference fees of all presenters will be waived and further potential support may also be available. Papers are welcomed from researchers and scholars working on any aspect of employer engagement in education and training are, of course, welcome.  In considering potential contributions, the conference organisers with the support of our Conference Programme Committee will consider the robustness of methodological approaches as well as the relevance of work to policy makers and practitioners.

The call for papers for the London Conference on Employer Engagement in Education and Training is open until 31 March.

Supporters of the London Conference on Employer Engagement in Education and Training include the Edge Foundation and Barclays LifeSkills.