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How to Organise an Effective Workshop for Students

Following on from our blog on organising successful work experience placements, we’re turning our attention to employer-led careers workshops – another great way to engage with schools and colleges with benefits for all involved. Done well, workshops can be memorable, motivating and productive. As Confucius said, “Tell me and I will forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I will understand.”

Workshops do take some planning to get right. We also understand that young people aren’t necessarily the easiest of audiences. But a careers workshop led by you, the employer, can make a real difference to young people and can also help raise your brand awareness to potential future employees. They’re fun to deliver, a fantastic opportunity to get your creative juices flowing and very satisfying when you get positive reactions from students.

Types of careers workshop

The content of your workshop is a matter of agreement between you and the school or college. The focus may be on STEM careers or on more generic job application and employability skills. In reality, you’ll probably cover a combination of these. But what are the main types of employer-led workshop and some of their benefits?

STEM careers workshops focus on topics relevant to jobs in your sector of work. Whether that’s renewable energy or robotics, civil engineering or cyber security, food science or pharmacology – it’s not difficult to bring STEM careers to life. You can raise awareness of the broad opportunities available in your industry and help students appreciate the links between the STEM curriculum and the world of work.

Schools and colleges may ask you to deliver job application skills workshops so that students are able to make the best of themselves when applying for STEM jobs. You could conduct workshops on interview technique, CV writing or networking, for example. These will convey a clear message about your expectations as an employer.

You could also run employability skills workshops focusing on developing students’ transferable skills such as teamwork, problem solving and planning. These will also help students understand the importance of these skills in the workplace.

Regardless of the topic, employer-led workshops should reinforce messages delivered by by schools or colleges and result in more motivated, focused students.

The ground work

Before you launch into the workshop planning, meet with key members of staff from the school or college (e.g. STEM teachers, the Careers Leader and/or Career Adviser). Whether you meet in person or remotely, you need to agree on your goals and establish how you can support the Gatsby Benchmarks for good practice in careers provision. These goals will be central to everything you do.

You’ll also need to establish:

  • the nature of your audience – their age, ability level and any particular needs
  • how many students will attend – if a large cohort, it may be better to have small groups and repeat the workshop
  • the best time within the academic year to run the workshop
  • how much time you have available for the workshop
  • where the workshop will be delivered – this could be on your premises or at the school/college; either way you’ll need plenty of space for the activities you want to run
  • the facilities available – it’s good to have a flipchart/board, plenty of pens, sticky notes, paper and so on, but you may also need special facilities for experiments or audio-visual equipment, for example.

Think about which member of staff would be best placed to plan and facilitate the workshop; the person you choose should be infectious in their enthusiasm! This is a great development opportunity but it’s important to give them sufficient time to plan.

The facilitator’s job is to create a relaxed, student-centred atmosphere where all the participants fully engage. You may want to approach other members of staff to support the facilitator with the workshop planning and/or delivery. A co-facilitator can be a great help with small group work, keeping an eye on timings and ensuring resources are available.

Find out whether the school or college wants any staff members involved in the delivery of the workshop, for example as an observer or co-facilitator.

Advice for the workshop planner

With the groundwork underway, what tips and advice do we have for the workshop planner/facilitator?

Plan!

You’ll need to produce a plan outlining what you intend to cover and how long you need for each activity.  

Make a good start

Allow time for personal introductions and to outline the workshop goals.

An icebreaker is a great way to kick-start your workshop. It will ease the students into the learning situation, create a positive atmosphere and break down barriers. It’ll also help you relax. There are lots of icebreaker ideas on the web, but try to find one that’s appropriate for your audience and that has some kind of link with what you’ll be covering in the workshop.

Activities

Remember a workshop is not a lecture. The more interactive and varied it is, the more interested and engaged the students will be. It also means you’re more likely to tap into different students’ learning styles.

Your activities could include:

  • small group and pair work
  • hands-on practical tasks
  • role plays
  • round robins
  • quizzes and competitions
  • presentations.

The activities need to be interesting, flexible and at the right level – not too easy but not too challenging. It’s a good idea to have some extension tasks for those who finish early.

Don’t reinvent the wheel – search online for ideas for both activities and resources and then tweak them to fit your goals and audience.

Timings

Be realistic about what you can cover in the time available. Allow a few minutes before each activity to give instructions and to deal with questions. Also allow time at the end of each activity to look at the results and provide feedback.

Try it out

If possible, give the activities a dry run with some colleagues. Send your plan to the school or college so that they can make suggestions and perhaps warn you about potential pitfalls.

Tips for the day itself

  1. Set some ground rules. Agree what constitutes acceptable and not acceptable behaviour and emphasise you’ll expect participation by all.
  2. Be flexible. Even though you will have put a lot of work into your plan, it’s a guide not a straightjacket. If students need more time on an activity and it’s going well, don’t be afraid to cut back on something else.
  3. Use student names. People tend to respond more positively if their names are used. Consider asking them to wear name badges as it’s unlikely you’ll remember them from their introductions.
  4. Involve everyone. This may mean not letting one or two students dominate and drawing out the quiet ones (small group work can help in this respect).
  5. Decide on quick ways to split the class. Students naturally gravitate towards their friends, but it’s good to mix them up so that they get different perspectives. A quick and easy way of doing this is to give students letters or symbols. If there’s more than one group activity, make sure students work with different people each time.
  6. Give time limits for each activity and warn the students when they have five or ten minutes left so that they can finish up.
  7. Sandwich feedback. If possible, when giving feedback to students start with something positive, mention anything they can improve and end on a positive note.
  8. Recap and reflect. After each main activity, encourage the students to reflect on their experiences and learning. At the end of the workshop as a whole, revisit your goals to establish whether or not they’ve been met and to give the students a sense of accomplishment. Ask the students to provide you with feedback; a simple evaluation form is useful.

Follow-up

Think about what went well. Which aspects did the students find difficult or too easy? Which bits were the most fun? How were your timings? And, most importantly, did you achieve your goals?

As soon as possible after the workshop, go through the student evaluations with a view to improving future workshops. Do bear in mind that no two groups are ever the same, so you could find that the same activities will go down better with some groups than others.

It’s also important to hold a debriefing session with all the stakeholders so that you can discuss the success of the workshop from different points of view.

Find out more

The Careers & Enterprise Company and Confederation of British Industry have produced two documents giving examples and tips on employer-led careers activities (including workshops) – Employers Engaging With Schools: Compendium of Case Studies and How to Support Careers and Enterprise Activities in Schools: A Practical Guide for Employers.

You can find lots of information on running workshops online – for example, see the Seeds for Change website.

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Planning an effective careers workshop does take careful planning and hard work, but some time thinking through the details will ensure that everyone gets full value from the opportunity.

 

Debbie Steel

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