When it comes to inspiring young adults through innovative techniques, it can be hard to gauge whether a particular activity is fun and attention-grabbing, or instead a distraction from learning. Taking employer engagement outside the traditional realm of learning can be an effective way of getting students interested, but there’s always the challenge of achieving that all-important balance.
Employer engagement, by its nature, is an inspirational activity and so sometimes problems arise when trying to connect with students whose aspirational focus is unknown or limited. The future can be scary for students, with endless options feeling overwhelming and thus a clear journey of the future appearing unclear. That’s why making employer engagement as regular and student-specific as possible is crucial so that it is relatable and stimulates aspirations within students.
Taking a varied approach, schools and colleges can benefit from paying more attention to vocational and STEM subjects alongside more traditional careers like Law and Business. It has also been shown that students at institutions who offer regular employer engagement are 5 times less likely to end up in the NEET bracket.
For these reasons, making employer engagement as appealing as possible is vital for the future of the student. There are endless ways the world of work can be infused into the education system, but which employer engagement activities are the best of the best? We’ve hand-picked some of our favourites.
Job Shadowing / Work Experience
This long-standing, tried and tested method of employer engagement has been used by school and college careers departments for a while now. But why? Because spending time on the ground at a real-life workplace is an invaluable way of showing students how their prospective careers in different industries will be on a day-to-day basis.
Work tasters offer a general overview of the workplace in this sense, but job shadowing specific people in specific roles can be even more beneficial. According to the University of Southampton, recruiters expect 37% of all entry-level positions to be filled by people who have previously had experience in their respective company.
Work experience is also less time consuming and thus more cost effective for schools and colleges, with the level of organisation involved in putting together relatively minimal. Of course, you can’t just sit back and relax with a cup of tea as some school/college involvement is still required: students will need guidance as to how to effectively arrange their placements, which workplaces are open to them/appropriate for shadowing, and how best to document their experience and utilise it for UCAS applications and future job interviews.
When focused on an individual student’s career interests, job shadowing can enable students to gain first-hand experience of a relevant workplace, improve their employability skills, create a network of contacts at an organisation that they might want to work at, improve their professional skills and also build a useful relationship for your school/college with a local employer that can be leveraged in the future.
According to research conducted by the Careers & Enterprise Company, second to work experience/job shadowing, careers events are the employer engagement activity most participated in by young people in the UK. Though these are often mandatory, evidence has shown that they are an effective, hands-on way of engaging students with employers.
A further survey of 256 students and 38 experienced practitioners carried out by the Early Intervention Foundation demonstrates this by finding that careers events are ‘consistently effective’ equivalent to Level Four impact. This means a greater likelihood that students who participate in careers events won’t fall into the NEET category once they leave school or college, and that their overall prospects of getting the employment they want is higher.
This is because career events offer students the opportunity to network with potential future employers, practice speaking with professionals, learn about current job openings and gain valuable industry insight. Schools and colleges who show real engagement with employers when it comes to careers events are making an investment in their student body which leads to stronger destination outcomes.
Taking time out from traditional lessons to engage students in enterprise competitions and business games is a great way of getting them to learn about the world of work outside of convention.
Enterprise competitions, business games and ‘design and make’ simulations have been shown to develop students’ cognitive abilities, employability skills, personal effectiveness and career knowledge by virtue of their emphasis on experiential learning.
They are also of relatively little cost to the school or college participating, since host organisations foot most, if not all, of the bill. They provide good feedback on how career-ready students are and give participants the opportunity to engage in teamwork, design aspects of their own project, and practice leadership and professional communication skills. Plus, they’re really fun for students.
Mock Interview Sessions
Mock interviews are another great practical way of preparing students for the world of work, since job interviews are one of the biggest hurdles to jump for securing employment. This can be for a variety of reasons – and the sooner a student installs an understanding of job interview etiquette, the easier they will find entering the job market later in life.
From the schools’ and colleges’ point of view, mock interview programmes can involve a considerable amount of work and good planning is paramount. As a general rule, it is good to liaise with potential employers about three months before the actual interviews are proposed to take place. You should aim to have student responses in place (i.e. CVs, cover letters, permission from parents) about two months before interviewing and have any employers who are interested confirmed one month before.
This level of organisation is essential, providing the students for the rigours of workplace routine and for the reality of job hunting. It also ensures that you build those all-important bridges with employers, who will hopefully have a positive experience of your school/college and are more likely to become a useful partner in the future.
One of the problems facing STEM subjects is that, to young people, they can often seem daunting and at times incomprehensible. However, there is a huge demand for students that have studied STEM subjects. To take engineering as an example, figures show that there is an annual shortfall of 20,000 engineering graduates and there is projected to be an overall deficit of nearly 1.8 million by 2025.
This means that accessibility is key, and one of the best ways to break down barriers between students and the world of work is to invite experts to come and speak in layman’s terms about their experience in their respective fields.
According to the charity Speakers 4 Schools, 96% of teachers who have been involved in one of their programmes said that a visiting speaker has made “a lasting impact”.
Mentoring, in the context of employer engagement, means ring-fencing some one-on-one time for individual students to learn from business representatives. This can be useful in the case of students who are more likely to underperform academically, or for students who have developed a specific interest in the subject area of the employer.
Mentoring is especially important in schools and colleges with a high proportion of students on free school meals. Direct intervention, according to the Department of Education, can help to supplement any shortfall in support coming from often financially-constrained homes.
It does take work though. Unlike any of the other activities already mentioned, mentoring, according to the National College for Teaching and Leadership, is a long term project that requires constant maintenance until students are ready to move on from school or college.
It is not an ‘easy fix’ in this sense, but it can have a significant and lasting impact on students. It has the potential to give them a much better understanding of their area of interest, improve their confidence, boost aspirations, offer a role model and improve communication skills.
From most of the examples we’ve read about today, it’s clear that the reason employer engagement is such an effective method of inspiring students is because it acknowledges their place in the world as future leaders. It gives them a peek into the reality of the workplace and it treats them, often for the first time, with maturity.
The problem with trying to engage with students about the world of work within the classroom environment is that it is often perceived as theoretical and disconnected from the realities of the careers being discussed. Students have been shown to respond better to learning when they are given a certain level of autonomy, and since self-driven learning is how they will have to deal with the working world anyway, employer engagement offers much good practice.
Schools and colleges are crucial in this regard, since this is where much of the networking and organisation needed for young adults to engage with employers is available. Parents, guardians and even employers themselves are only able to achieve so much when it comes to outreach, and so a combined effort across the board is what we, at Springpod, recommend for a bright future for young people.