From education to employment

Opening Doors to employment with study programmes

In March Working Knowledge hosted the Opening Doors to employment with Study Programmes forum, sponsored by the Department for Education. The forum was an opportunity for senior FE staff to share insights, best practice and lessons learned whilst delivering Study Programme requirements for work experience. The 67 delegates, which included some Business professionals took part in a series of facilitated workshops alongside presentations on key issues surrounding the delivery of work experience in Further Education. Those issues were covered in 4 main themes, which are summarised below. For each of these themes 3 speakers from colleges, or business in the case of theme C spoke about their experiences.

James Lott, MD of Working Knowledge opened the forum and explained how FE needs to change its tone. Instead of approaching employers asking them for help with work experience placements, apprenticeships and jobs FE institutions should take pride in their learners and their role as “custodians of the talent that businesses need in order for them to continue and grow.” The goal of colleges should be to have as many curriculum-relevant employers engaged as learners on the course. A key way to achieve this is encourage teachers and learners to build Personal Career Networks of relevant employers as 70% of learners get their 1st career job via their personal network. Working Knowledge champion the use of LinkedIn as a tool to build these networks.

Theme A: Taking a whole college programmes approach to employability, employer engagement and work experience.

The main insights from this theme were that Colleges should be giving all of their learners the opportunity to get real jobs on campus, such as mini jobs in on-site organisations.

Working on live project briefs from real employers as well as enterprise competitions appeared as a common way colleges engage employers. Whilst Abingdon and Witney College also engage all their learners, cross-curricula and faculty, in big whole college projects, for example arranging the college open day.

Theme B: Why employer engagement and defining work experience for lower level learners needs some careful thought.

30% of delegates surveyed at the start of the forum felt that Level 1 was the hardest learner level to engage employers with. A key thought was that work experience must be meaningful, interesting and worthwhile to ensure learner retention and keep the link between the college and employer. Colleges must let the employers know what they want their learners to get out of the work experience placement or activity, ensuring it’s tailored to the needs of the learners and relevant to what they are learning in the classroom. It is essential that employers are informed of what to expect of level 1 learners such as low confidence and self-esteem.

Level 1 learners require a lot of support and guidance to build their knowledge, and employability skills. 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. Some solutions include in-house ‘mini jobs’ as well as enterprise activities or workplace visits. 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.

Theme C: Mind the Gap! Engaging employers from sectors with skills gaps. The view from business.

For this theme Working Knowledge invited three business people who have previously volunteered for our programmes to give their view on what they need to see in young people trying to gain employment. The employers agreed that employability skills are vital and unfortunately, are often lacking due to learners no having part time jobs or volunteering experience. They stated that the skills they look for such as attitude, passion, willingness to learn, readiness to work hard are often more important to them as employers that the candidates’ academic history.

Theme D: “I’m bright but Uni is not for me!” How colleges can support able students to access employment opportunities including school leaver programmes, apprenticeships etc.

Despite their academic abilities many Level 3 learners are still lacking confidence and are not ready for work as they have no experience. To combat this Cadbury College offer internal apprenticeships and jobs as well as talks with local employers. They also have a job shop run by the students for the students. East Kent College encourage each curriculum area to develop their own employer links and engage employers to deliver elements of the curriculum. Their focus with work experience placements is to have ones which will result in apprenticeships at the end.

Bright school leavers are now realising they need work experience either as well as university or instead of it. With the vast majority of finance and banking graduate trainees having already worked for their employer it is apparent that work experience is essential. In fact many school leaver programmes and internships are seen as more valuable than university degrees as they equip learners with the essential employability skills they need for the workplace.

The forum was a success with 98% of delegates saying they felt the conference was useful and 100% saying they would recommend a Working Knowledge conference to a colleague. “I have a number of useful ideas in my notes, I think the format worked really well – intensive input followed by discussion.” – Andrew, Colchester Institute.

For more information about the forum including videos of the presentations, slide shows and free downloadable resources for work experience planning please visit our website.

Working Knowledge will be hosting another forum in Aylesbury College, for more information please get in touch.

Dr. 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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