Experiences of the workplaces are such an important part of any career education program, but it’s not always easy to create authentic, varied experiences with employers, especially in this post-covid landscape. Some great work is being done in the UK to broaden our ideas about work experience and engagement with employers through the Careers and Enterprise Company, and they offer a great range of resources for both schools and employers as well as a dedicated service which helps schools connect directly with local employers and business people.
The Ponder Program helps students build the skills they need to manage their careers, but this is only one part of the puzzle. Students also need to build their first-hand knowledge of what the workplace is really like so that they can make informed decisions, and, in the same way that part of the power of the Ponder Program lies in its regularity throughout school, experiences of the workplace shouldn’t be limited to one week of work experience before subject selection.
There’s a lot we can learn from their experiences in the UK, and, with this in mind, I’ve put together some tips for approaching employers and engaging them with your programs:
#1 – Identify Relevant Industries and Employers
Understanding your local job market and economic landscape is crucial when planning employer engagement. Research which industries are prominent in your area, which ones are growing, and which ones have potential future job opportunities for your students. For example, if healthcare is a significant sector in your region, it would be beneficial to connect with local hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and other care facilities. Reach out to the HR departments of these organizations and learn about their roles, responsibilities, and the skills they look for in potential employees, as engaging with these organizations could open up opportunities for guest lectures, career fairs, internships, or job shadowing experiences for your students.
#2 – Leverage Existing Networks
Your school community is a rich network waiting to be tapped into. Encourage teachers, staff, parents, and alumni to share their connections and help expand your reach. During a staff meeting, you might request teachers to think of relatives or friends working in industries that could offer valuable work experience or career insights to your students. You could also place a notice in your school newsletter or on the school website, inviting parents to volunteer their time to talk about their work, share their career journeys, or host students for job shadowing experiences. Don’t forget to engage your school’s alumni as well; they can provide valuable connections and insights into various industries. Some of the schools with the best work experience programs I’ve seen made extensive use of their alumni networks to connect students with questions about career paths with past students who were working in those areas – it wasn’t even about traditional work experience, just having a good conversation.
#3 – Understand Employer Needs
Employers are more likely to engage if they see that you understand their needs and are willing to work towards meeting them. Before approaching potential employer partners, conduct some research to understand their business, the challenges they face, and the skills they value in their employees. The past few years have been difficult for employers, and they may have less available staff to support your request, so making things as easy as possible for them and working to their schedule, while not always convenient, is more likely to be effective. The Careers and Enterprise Company from the UK have created a suite of resources for employers to help them understand how to engage with schools and students, and some of these may be appropriate to share with your local employers.
#4 – Create a Value Proposition
Employers need to see the benefits of engaging with your school clearly. Could they gain early access to a pool of potential future employees? Could the engagement opportunity allow their current employees to develop mentoring or leadership skills? Could their participation count towards their corporate social responsibility initiatives? When proposing an engagement opportunity, be explicit about the mutual benefits. For instance, you could highlight the opportunity for their employees to gain mentoring experience by guiding your students or the positive brand exposure they would get from being associated with your school’s career education program. Employers take on a cost when they choose to engage with a school, and while many of them are happy to do so, it can make it easier for them to justify their involvement to senior management if they understand clearly how the company could expect to benefit.
#5 – Make a Personal Connection
It’s important to build relationships with local employers, as this will make it easier for you to make requests of their time, and also encourages more authentic engagement with your school and students. For this reason, avoid mass emails and impersonal callouts, and take the time to have conversations with local employers. You could do this through attending industry events (more on this next) or through professional networking platforms like LinkedIn. If you have a robust online network which includes a range of local employers it should be much easier for you to find the right employer and workplace for a student than if you were relying on emails alone.
#6 – Host Industry Events
Position your school as a hub of industry knowledge and connection by hosting events relevant to employers. This could be as simple as inviting a guest speaker from a local business to talk about their career journey, or as elaborate as organizing a career fair with representatives from various industries. Consider collaborating with other local schools to host joint networking events, which could attract more employers and provide students with a broader range of potential contacts and you could also consider attending local business events such as Chamber of Commerce lunches to network with business owners from your local area.
How do you already engage with employers, and is there anything else you could do to streamline or maximise your processes? These tips are just the ‘tip’ of the iceberg really, there are so many ways you can tap into employers to amplify your own career program.
The following are some online resources that schools can use to facilitate employer engagement:
- Education and Employers: This organization conducts research and provides resources to improve understanding of the impact of employer engagement in education.
- Jobs for the Future (JFF): This organization provides a toolkit for developing employer partnerships, with resources for understanding industry needs, hosting industry events, and designing training programs in collaboration with employers.