Employers are notoriously short on time, and even shorter on patience when faced with bureaucracy and red tape. They want to spend every moment concentrating on activities that directly relate to business development, so it is undoubtedly a challenge to get business leaders to sit up and take notice of messages from the FE sector.
The key issue is to ensure that the target audience is clearly identified and targeted. Getting ‘front of mind’ with time-poor employers requires communications with cut-through if the campaign is to reap results.
As a starting point, providers would benefit from undertaking a critical self-assessment of current activities, the idea being that from this insight a coordinated, strategic approach to employer engagement would be established, providing consistent messages linking business solutions and curriculum development – this demand-led methodology is vital to demonstrating that you’re in tune with employers’ needs.
Partnerships formed with business as a result of the above are mutually beneficial, providing employers with access to the pool of student talent, and enabling training providers and colleges to keep up-to-date with key industry developments.
In West Cheshire College’s recent Ofsted inspection, its success rate in employer responsive provision was rated outstanding and stated ‘work-based learners develop skills and knowledge appreciated by their employers’ and ’employers are able to choose from a very wide range of vocational courses that respond to local skills shortages and national priorities.’
Even with that glowing feedback, the college isn’t one to rest on its laurels. Promoting its services to employers and generating commercial income is, and will remain, a key objective to the future success of the college. As a result there has been a significant shift in terms of dedicating more PR resource towards this goal.
Helen Nellist, Assistant Principal at West Cheshire College commented: “In order to ensure that PR is effectively managed, we have a specific Employer PR Strategy that outlines our key objectives, messages, audiences and tactics.
“Primarily we use PR to raise awareness of our employer ‘Business Solutions’ brand amongst large corporations and SMEs and to strategically support marketing campaigns. PR focuses on new business / contract wins, success ‘case studies’, promoting employer events and supporting businesses through the economic downturn.
“As well as targeting the local / regional newspapers, we also target regional business publications, Chamber of Commerce and Business Link publications and specific industry trade magazines.”
Last year, in response to the recession, the college ran a marketing campaign focusing on helping employers beat the economic downturn. PR supported this campaign and the college developed a series of news stories highlighting the services on offer at West Cheshire College relating to recruitment, workforce development and downsizing your workforce.
Helen continues: “As a college, we actively support key national initiatives such as National Apprenticeship Week. For this event, we ran a ‘back to the floor’ campaign with our local MPs and employers, as well as an employer luncheon to raise awareness of Apprenticeships. The supporting PR coverage contributed significantly to the success of the event and the number of employers that we recruited.”
One of the key messages taken from West Cheshire College’s experience and its subsequent change in approach is that you need to be talking to businesses about subjects they have an interest in. They’re attention needs to be grabbed, and following that initial impact, it needs to be maintained. This can only happen when you fully understand the audience you’re targeting and its triggers. An offer to save them time and money, or equally a chance to boost earnings by increased business performance will rarely be passed up.
Angela Smith is managing director of The Write Angle, a PR and marketing agency that possesses strong links with the training and education sector, with clients including the National Apprenticeship Service, Business Link and a range of FE providers