Zac Aldridge, Director of Technical Education at NCFE

 1. Employer engagement

A brilliant 16-19 employability programme should start with the end in mind: which jobs are learners intending to get when they complete?

Involve employers in curriculum design

Employers welcome the chance to contribute to curriculum content. This way, they know that what’s being delivered will be relevant to their business. Don’t worry if your curriculum is heavily influenced by just one employer; learners who can showcase specific, practical skills for one, prove that they are capable of doing it for others.

Employer interviews

Ask employer representatives to come along and interview your learners, and not just at the end of their course. Unfamiliar faces wearing uniforms or suits don’t help learners perform at their best. Exposing learners to interviews from strangers, just like the strangers who will be interviewing them for a real job, will help them to relax and give their best at the right time.

Employer sponsorship

A large local employer may provide enough job opportunities every year to recruit significant numbers of learners. An excellent employability programme acts as a pipeline of talent for employers and, as such, they may be willing to ‘sponsor’ a course. Sponsorship may simply mean they provide equipment and resources, but consider asking them to support with branding (on uniforms, as part of a campus, learning centre or classroom). For learners, this can be priceless, instilling a sense of pride in the programme and a sense of being at work before they actually get there.

2. Competitions

Generating a healthy and balanced sense of competition among peers can improve learning. Entering learners into organised competitions is an obvious benefit and looks great on a CV. However, using Worldskills UK to drive the content of a curriculum can provide learners with the edge over their counterparts.

Set up competitions with local providers or intra-provider competitions. It could be vocationally-relevant – a bake off for catering students, for example. Or it might be applicable to a whole cohort – which department can make the most income from selling products or services related to their vocational area? The sense of achievement young people gain simply from taking part, enhances their studies and employability.

3. Enrichment

A recent article by David Hughes, AoC CEO, talked about the fact that, in any learning activity, we often learn as much about ourselves as we do about our qualifications. Between the ages of 16-19, when learners’ characters, views and outlooks are still being developed, this is even more true. It is as important to focus on these aspects as it is on exams and assessments. And employers know this; David’s article points to the fact that employers look as much at behaviours and attitudes when it comes to recruitment as they do at qualifications. Ofsted also knows this and split the previously single headline judgement of personal development, behaviour and welfare into two: personal development, and; behaviour and attitudes.

An employability programme that has employer engagement at its heart should take advantage of that engagement to support enrichment eg encourage learners to arrange their own enrichment activities such as volunteering with employers.

4. Teaching and learning

The success of any course depends on the quality of learning. If teaching is excellent, learners are more likely to stay on the course, be engaged, achieve, and secure a job. Professional development is key and we’d advise a focus on two central facets:

Industry experience:

This is relevant for teachers as well as learners - the specific provision that employers have helped to design is further enhanced with specific professional development. Engaged employers will readily support placements for teachers.

Peer observation

Peer observation is non-judgemental, aids self-reflection, builds trust and allows greater collaboration between colleagues. Teachers delivering on employability programmes may be teaching only part of that programme. Therefore, allowing time for those teachers to observe the delivery of the other elements of the course will give them more opportunity to relate their own delivery to the industry in which their learners want to work.

For the same reason, it is important to link learning support staff very closely with vocational teaching. The context and customised support they can offer learners when they understand better what’s being taught is key to improving job outcomes.

5. Careers education, information, advice and guidance

Weaving careers support into employability curriculum, in addition to scheduled 1:1 careers guidance sessions, is a great way of adding tailored provision that will differentiate your employability programme from generic offerings. For example, ask careers advisors to take over lessons on your timetables. It’s an excellent way of meeting Gatsby benchmark 4 – there are resources to help with this from a number of sources, including the Gatsby website.

Many providers have Enterprise Advisers, industry professionals linked with the providers to support with careers guidance. Enterprise Advisers are ideally placed to support you to make links with industry and to use those links effectively to support employability. Why not ask them to contribute to the organisation of an enterprise day where learners sell the products of their learning – or sell themselves – to invited local employers? Advocates for learning exist all over the place, tapping into their expertise and enthusiasm can make a big difference to the quality and focus of your employability provision.

Zac Aldridge, Director of Technical Education at NCFE

We’re keen to work with like minded organisations to help learners boost their skills, confidence and go the distance – read more

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