Simon Bracken, Higher Education Manager, Bath College

Having made our TEF submission in January 2018 (in the same week as we had a full Ofsted Inspection, which made for an interesting week to say the least!) we, like others in the sector had to wait until June 4th to find out the outcome. We were delighted to be awarded TEF Silver for three years for our Higher Education provision at Bath College.

Part of our TEF feedback was that there was significant evidence of ‘employer participation in curriculum design and development to ensure that students are equipped with skills valued highly by employers.’

For those of you familiar with the TEF criteria, this related to our response to Valuing Teaching (TQ2), Employment and Further Study (AO1) and Employability & Transferable Skills (SO2).

What was the rationale?

Our Higher Education provision delivers to around 250 students in 8 different curriculum areas. Our offer has been developed, as is often the case with FE Colleges, to meet local needs rather than to compete with other providers.

In our local region we have four well-established Universities, as well as a number of FE Colleges who also provide HE provision. In this environment it’s important that our HE provision is as unique and distinct as possible.

We made a strategic decision to include our local employers in as many aspects of curriculum design and delivery as possible. As a consequence of this, ‘becoming employable’ and ‘employer engagement’ are key components of all our Higher Education programmes.

This has provided many advantages for us:

  • Employers become more aware of potential talent within the cohort giving employment opportunities to individual students.
  • It ensures that our courses, primarily High National Certificates and Diplomas, have up to date vocational skills being delivered.
  • Employers are good ‘hooks’ for potential applicants and our course marketing.
  • Our courses have ‘street cred’ with the students and provide CV building opportunities as part of learning activities.

We now have an impressive record of progression to high quality employment for those students who aren’t continuing their Higher Education at University.

What sorts of things have we done?

Live Briefs

Live briefs, set by employers, was one route taken. Our Applied Computing students have been working with Virtual Reality software and equipment as part of their Foundation Degree and BSc. They were set a brief by Radstock Museum to create a Virtual Reality Ride into the mines of the Somerset Coalfields.

Our students received fantastic feedback at every stage of the process, and learned how to modify ideas to fit in with employer expectations and requirements. The results were certainly impressive, and the Museum now uses it as a central attraction, and a taster can be viewed on their website.

TeachToo

Like many in the sector, we had struggled to fill vacancies for level 4 and 5 lecturers in Construction and the Built Environment.

It was difficult to find candidates who had both up to date knowledge of Industry practice and were willing to work on FE rates of pay as opposed to more competitive rates within the Industry itself.

Our solution was to use an idea based on the TeachToo programme developed by the Education Training Foundation (ETF). We approached a locally based company, an international firm providing construction and engineering consultancy, who provided professionals who came and delivered specialist elements of the programme, on short term flexible contracts.

This work fitted around other commitments they had, and usually amounted to one morning or afternoon per week. This also provided a good CPD opportunity to the teaching teams to draw upon up-to-date subject knowledge and industry practice. This has been in place for five or six years now and really enhances the quality and delivery of this programme.

Business Mentors

In another area, Business, we took a different approach to engage employers in delivery.

All our HND students have to do a business start-up as a component of their studies.

We used local employers as Business Mentors to support and develop business start-up ideas. In one case two Coffee Houses in Bath supported one of the students to start up a Coffee House of their own.

This particular student was also mentored by the marketing manager from another company to broaden his business strategy to greater market appeal.

Voluteering

Another approach for this group was by using a voluntary organisation based in Bristol who give advice and guidance to small charities. Our HND students became ‘volunteers’, and worked with small charities giving advice and guidance on their work.

One area that was quickly identified by the charities was a need to increase their knowledge and use of social media, which was an area that our students had particularly strong knowledge.

Not only was this a huge boost for the charities concerned, and great to the company, the students gained a really good example of their employability skills for their CVs.

Things we have learnt?

  • Always be flexible with days and times to make engagement for the employer.
  • Offer support and training to any employer so that any activity fits into the curriculum properly, and employers feel confident engaging with students.
  • Treat every employer as your most important employer.
  • Try to minimise the number of staff at the College that the employer needs to have communication with.
  • Don’t over-communicate, but keep communication clear and concise.
  • Keep education ‘jargon’ and ‘acronyms’ to an absolute minimum.

Final comments

Employer engagement, like these examples, is now part and parcel of all our Higher education provision at the College.

We constantly remind ourselves that employer contribution and engagement is a valuable and precious commodity and reward employers though discount schemes for College services and selective product placement opportunities.

We’d love to work with more employers, and also share good practice across the sector with other providers of Higher Education, so do please get in touch with us.

Our Higher Education curriculum covers Construction and the Built Environment, Mechanical and Electrical Engineering, Business, Music Performance and Production, Applied Computing, Sport and Education Studies

Simon Bracken, Higher Education Manager, Bath College

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