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Employer liaison case studies

Three case studies are presented for discussion. The first two are drawn from the traditional and new university sectors. This reflects the fact that the nature of the respective graduate labour markets and employer liaison activities in the two sectors can sometimes vary. There is also growing interest in internationalisation, and the disparate needs of students seeking international employment. Consequently, a third case study is provided focusing in international employer liaison. Whilst not necessarily typical of all higher education institutions, it illustrates four traditional universities working in partnership in China and provides an example of liaison with a competitive international recruiter.

1/ Pre-1992 Case Study

This institution’s DLHE statistics indicate that a high proportion of students enter graduate-level roles after graduation with relatively high proportions entering traditional or modern graduate sectors. The student profile is mixed, with many ambitious students keen to take the first step on the corporate ladder, a substantial group interested in ethical or not-for-profit careers, and some students (and staff) actively opposed to the employability agenda. Partly in reflection of this, the career service is also mixed in terms of viewpoints, and a culture of independent thought and critical thinking is generally encouraged. The contrasting views of three careers staff concerning the service’s employer liaison activities are highlighted below:

Career worker (A)
“We are a heavily targeted university, and whilst this is a desirable state of affairs in many respects it does mean that employers can be very demanding of staff time. We were finding that specialist staff were being diverted from other work in order to meet continuous employer requests for a particular event or media campaign. For example, one member of staff found that she was spending 0.5 of her time purely on employer liaison work. Much of this consists of what we call upstream consultancy: a strategy meeting, prior to any specific recruitment campaign, to discuss employer, university and student needs and avenues for progressing these. As a result of this, we decided to set up an Employer Liaison Team (ELT). The ELT will take on responsibility for all aspects of our employer liaison work including: booking employer presentations and workshops, organising employer fairs, and taking vacancies. In short, the ELT will become a one-stop shop for all employer liaison work and will link with a team of Student Careers Reps to circulate information to the student body.

Our careers service has been criticized by students and some staff for appearing too close to certain employers, for instance, we are heavily targeted by the ‘ABCs’ (accountants, banks and consultancies). This may have an effect on perceptions of impartiality and our ethical stance. This in turn may stop some students using the Service. In order to try and address some of these criticisms, I have been involved in planning an Ethical Centre for our students. The Centre is used to publicise not-for-profit work experience opportunities and careers in public service or ethical areas. It is important that the Centre is very student-focused, so part of my role is in supporting students and enabling them to set it up. The Centre has also gained the support of the local mayor and the university student union. We are also looking to pay students to act as brand managers. We need resources to fund this and so are speaking with potential sponsors such as Barclays Capital and Citigroup.”

Career worker (B)
“I believe that careers services must seek a mandate to act as an employer liaison navigator on a cross-institutional basis. This means that careers staff need to develop confidence to act in this role. Employer liaison is a strategic imperative for careers workers, particularly when this employer liaison work pays for staff salaries. We cannot be some marginal service operating at the periphery of the university; we must be well-networked and integrated at strategic level across the whole institution. This means finding potential allies such as the Development Directors and Senior Tutors and working with them. It means identifying the key committees, such as the policy and standards committees, and working through these.

Yes you are going to encounter some territorialism, but you just need to keep to your guns. You are offering the university a strategic brokerage service for employer liaison work. It goes beyond graduate recruitment to talent management. It’s not about careers, it’s about roles. My role, as head of service, is to seek a mandate for the service to act as the university navigator for employer liaison.”

Career worker (C)
“We have to be very careful with sponsorship and advertising. Some of our students have very strong views about firms such as Citigroup, particularly the students who may be interested in using or joining the Ethical Centre. For example, some of our students are involved in campaigning for better wages for low-paid cleaning staff at firms’ head offices in London. They campaign against the fact that some graduates are paid £60K per year and yet cleaners might get only £7 per hour in central London. This highlights some of the political sensitivities of employer work. It’s important that we do not enter into any arrangements that undermine impartiality.

It’s important to maintain an independent and reflective stance both as an individual and as a service. I would like to emphasise that there is no absolute way of understanding labour markets and employer liaison work. Think about the work of Sennett in The Corrosion of Character or Leadbeater in Living on Thin Air, both of these give you contrasting ways of understanding labour markets and the economy.”

2/ Post-1992 Case Study

The DLHE survey at this HEI indicates that around 50% of students go into non-graduate-level posts, and of those that do end up in graduate roles, the majority of these are in Niche or New graduate sectors. Most students are non-traditional in terms of age and qualifications on entry. Students are largely following vocational or semi-vocational degrees and are not generally interested in, or suitable for, the types of graduate jobs advertised in the glossy literature. The institution has well-established employer links within some vocational degrees but declining student numbers on these courses. Newer subjects are attracting larger numbers of students but links with employers in these sectors are limited. There is a small career service with limited financial resources.

Career worker (A)
“There were two principal challenges facing our service in terms of employer liaison:

To provide a service based on identified student needs that was not reliant on traditional graduate recruitment.To maintain traditional employer links but also nurture new links related to changed student profile.

In order to meet the above challenges, I decided to provide a web-based specialist vacancy service for students related to new and old vocational areas. This involved bidding for Hefce funds in order to recruit temporary staff and pay for web site design services. The bid required detailed labour market intelligence drawn from our specialist vocational sectors. This provided essential intelligence to support the bid and argue a labour market case for the project.

I recognised that much of the graduate recruitment literature was not suitable for our students so I decided to develop a bespoke range of jobseeker’s guides tailored directly towards the vocational subjects studied by our students. This was essentially a career information activity that fed directly into our vacancy handling operation. In researching potential employers in new and old sectors there was also an opportunity to market our specialist advertising services.”

Career worker (B)
“The initial success of the web-based vacancy project was threatened by the end of the external funding. The institution was unlikely to be able to carry the costs of a further permanent full-time post. It seemed that the project may be forced to end, and I strongly argued that we should start charging employers for advertising vacancies. This is a step that many careers services may be reluctant to take with all that it implies for impartiality and so on, however, I believed that we had a good service (the web site) that was designed for employer needs and needed their support if it was to continue. In the end, we worked out a solution whereby employers would still be offered a free vacancy advertising service – essentially a noticeboard – but if they wanted to take advantage of additional services i.e. the web-based service, they would be asked to pay for an advert.

Generally, I found that employers were not that surprised at being asked to pay for a vacancy advert, after all, they often have to pay for advertising in other media. I do not feel that it has threatened our impartiality as the service is available to all, and it is explicitly offered as a vacancy advertising service i.e. there is no promotional or agency-type activity. In fact, it more clearly enables us to limit our services to a set, deliverable product. Over time, we have found that the service has generated enough income from employers to part-fund the permanent post, and the institution has been happy to fund the remainder.

Continuation has also involved linking with our Director of Knowledge Transfer. The Director has forged a number of Knowledge Transfer Partnerships with specialist employers. The site provides an avenue for advertising these vacancies, and our employer liaison work means that potential partners can be identified and referred on.”


3/ Internationalisation Case Study

Career worker (A)
“Our university is working with three other universities to organise three careers events in Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong. A partner institution organised some similar events last year, and are the main organiser, but we have about 20 places at each event for our students and graduates. This year’s Fairs will give students a unique opportunity to meet top employers face to face in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong King. The Fairs are aimed at students from all years of study, who are bilingual in English and a Chinese language. Sponsorship has been obtained from Ernst and Young.

The Fairs provide a convenient way to met top western multinationals with a strong presence in mainland China and Hong Kong. Last year’s fairs were very successful with a number of students gaining internships and jobs as a result (with Ernst and Young, Deutsche Bank and BDA Consulting, for example).

Employers are yet to be confirmed but are likely to include: investment banks such as Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and Deutsche bank; professional services firms such as KPMG and PwC; and consultancies such as Accenture and Monitor. Other companies such as Bloomberg, Shell and BP will also be represented.”

Career worker (B)
“Working with international employers can be very satisfying but also very challenging. One year we were approached by the World Bank seeking to recruit an economist. The Bank was only talking to us and a handful of other universities across the world about this recruitment. They wanted us to pre-select the economist and this posed real challenges for us as a service in terms of our ethics and so on. Our solution was to convene a panel of academics to nominate a candidate. This meant that we could meet the employer’s needs without directly engaging in pre-selection.”

Next step

Once you have considered the case studies, please refer to the next page for commentary and questions.