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Section 2: Educational Institutions and Employers


2.1 Educational institutions and their purpose

When considering how educational institutions and employers work together, it is useful to consider the different perspectives on the purpose of education, and how this might inform a view of appropriate liaison with employers. This connects with our discussions of employability in the Work Experience, Career and Employability module.

Activity 1:

Jot down some of the differences between how you imagine schools, colleges and Universities liaise with employers

Here are some examples of differences:

How much autonomy do they have?

What government policy governs their operation?

What geographical labour market do they engage with? For example, Schools and FE colleges operating within a local and sub-regional market and are more likely to have contact with SMEs, or a local branch of a large employer. Universities are more likely to operate nationally and internationally.

How are they measured and assessed? Mechanisms like the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education and OFSTED will drive behaviour too.


2.2 Employers

A historical perspective on employers' engagement with education is also useful.


Read chapter 2 of ‘Rethinking Work Experience’ for a historical perspective on work experience in schools. (In your reading pack)

Chapter 3 from the AGCAS volume ‘Reflections on Change’ (also in your reading pack) offers a contrasting view of employer liaison in higher education.

Note down any observations of the differences between these accounts, published in 1991 and 2007, and the current situation.

Why engage with education?

Employers motives for engaging with work experience range from securing their own recruitment talent pipeline to meeting Corporate Social Responsibility objectives. In terms of the skills supply they could be thinking short and long term. e.g. Neil Robertson, the Chief Executive of Energy & Utility Skills (the Sector Skills Council (SSC) for the gas, power, waste management and water industries) that the skills supply problems faced by their industry are so acute that the Chief Executive of National Grid spends on 20% of his time working on these issues, in part through educational engagement.

2.3 Defining employer engagement.

Despite our focus on work experience, it is important to be aware of the broadest definitions of employer engagement.

This table (click to enlarge) relating to higher education is adapted from Little and Brennan (1996) summarises a range of activities that form work related learning. Other forms of employer engagement, such as student employment or input to the curriculum can also be added.

Brennan and Little, 1996

Little, B & Brennan, J (1996) A Review of Work Based Learning in Higher Education, Dfee: Sheffield: 7

We will come back to this later.

You doing this module, if paid for by your employer, is employer engagement. This also demonstrate that the contact does not have to be with the organisation formally, but with the person in the organisation.

An alternative way of viewing the different ways employers engage with educational organisations is depicted by the Edge Foundation in their 2013 report on profound employer engagement. Click to enlarge the table. (report available from this link).



How useful do you find these distinctions to be?

Perhaps the ’progression’ section is our main focus, but good employer engagement can ‘bleed’ out beyond it to encompass teaching and learning and institutional operation.

2.4 The Politics of employer engagement

Current policy on career support has put employer engagement in the spotlight for young people under 19, as this response from the Skills Minister to a parliamentary question on career advice demonstrates:

As we have set out many times, a far more important—if not the most important—thing for young people’s inspiration and motivation is people who themselves are successful in their careers, so that is what our careers advice policy focuses on.

Matthew Hancock MP

This blog post from Tristram Hooley (Director of the International Centre for Guidance Studies) gives more background.


This has given traction to initiatives to encourage employers to engage with education. For example, the Education and Employers Taskforce have attracted public and private sector funding for their ‘Inspiring the Future’ initiative. The Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development have responding through the Learning to Work programme. Contrast this private funding with the cutting of public funding for Education Business Partnerships was cut in 2010.

The 2012 Wilson review, and the government response to it, gives a flavour of the politics of higher education employer engagement.


2.5 Benefits and barriers of employer engagement

This section highlights that there are different perspectives on the benefits of employer-education engagement.

We often focus first on the labour market outcome benefits: individual benefit and this leads to societal and economic benefits.

However, the organisational benefits, including developing their talent pipeline, brand awareness and corporate social responsibility are important to capture.


Read the Edge foundation report, particularly the section on barriers pp 12-17. Do you agree with these barriers? How do these translate to your context? Are there any that you would add?

Please post to the forum with your reflections on this section.