From education to employment

Why employer engagement and defining work experience for lower level learners needs some careful thought

James Lott is the managing director of Working Knowledge,

Why employer engagement needs some careful thought

With many colleges struggling to meet Study Programme criteria for work experience, Working Knowledge hosted a high level forum, sponsored by the Department for Education, to address some of the key issues surrounding Study Programme requirements for employability skills and work experience.

An important theme was why employer engagement and defining work experience for lower level learners needs some careful thought. In fact 30% of delegates surveyed at the start of the forum felt that Level 1 was the hardest learner level to engage employers with.

3 speakers presented their thoughts on how to address work experience for low level learners:

  • Ann-Marie Liddiard from Hackney Community College
  • Anna Cook from City of Westminster College
  • Parmjit Parris from Greenwich Community College

Below are the 3 key insights that arose from those presentations:

1. Work experience must be meaningful, interesting and worthwhile

Ann-Marie Liddiard pointed out that unless work experience activities and placements meet the above criteria the students will not keep showing up, this means colleges will lose a vital employer link and sour their reputation as a provider of work experience learners. It is essential that the work experience placement and activities embed the functional skills that the learners are learning in the classroom, this ensures the learners see its relevance and can understand how it is contributing to their education as a whole.

Colleges must let the employers know what they want their learners to get out of the work experience placement or activity, ensuring the placement is tailored to the needs of the learners and is relevant and useful to them. Catherine Warrilow attended the forum as a Business professional representing her company Seriously PR, she explained that “there is gap between colleges and employers in terms of fulfilling curriculum and Study Programme requirements in work experience placements – for example as an employer I set the objectives for work experience and have little to no input from tutors on what the student should be trying to achieve.”

2. Many Level 1 learners are often not ‘work ready’ or ‘work experience ready’

Level 1 learners require a lot of support and guidance to build the knowledge, self-esteem, confidence and employability skills that they need for the world of work and work experience. Unfortunately not every business has the time or resources to mentor lower level learners in the workplace and for some learners work placements may not be appropriate for them.

Dragons den ideas for college: Some solutions that City of Westminster College have actioned include in house ‘mini jobs’ as well as enterprise activities such as dragons den style employability days or workplace visits. 

Parmjit Parris explained that Greenwich Community College encourages employers to come into the college as guest speakers to familiarise themselves with the college and the learners with the world of work, this encourages questioning from both parties and helps the learners gain an insight into business without the pressure of a formal placement.

It is essential that employers are informed of what to expect of level 1 learners such as low confidence and self-esteem and colleges must manage their expectations of what can be achieved on the placement.

3. Many employers are willing to help young people so Colleges need to be proactive

Corporate Social Responsibility aside many employers generally want to help young people, and in our experience working with level 1 learners can be the most rewarding for them. It is important to sell the fact that employers will have a huge impact on the learners and will see the tangible difference they are making in terms of the learners confidence and skills.

The challenges inherent with preparing level 1 learners for the workplace means colleges need to be creative about what work experience activities they engage for them. They also need to ensure that the employers know what to expect of the learners and feel they are supported throughout their interactions with them. It may be that for some learners a ‘traditional’ placement may not be appropriate, this is where colleges need to arrange innovative simulations and work experience activities that allow employers and learners to engage with one another without the pressure of a placement.

Following the Working Knowledge Opening Doors forum many staff members felt better equipped to meet the challenges of engaging employers to support level 1 learners. Andrew Allen, Director of Creative Arts at Colchester Institute told us he had gained “a number of useful ideas. The format worked well – intensive input followed by discussion.”
For more information about the forum including videos presentations, slideshows and free downloadable resources please check out our website or join the conversation on LinkedIn.

James Lott is the managing director of Working Knowledge, a social enterprise that has over 8 years experience of partnering with the Further and Higher Education sectors to support the education of full time learners through employer engagement via a range of value-added work experience, enterprise and employability services

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