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Section One: Employers as Organisations

Organisations are complex social systems and before we look at how we relate to them, it worth spending some time considering how we look at them.

In developing a strategic approach to working with employers, where resources are allocated to developing the relationships that are most beneficial to our learners, we need to find some ways to distinguish employers from one another.

Structural Features

It is common to find employers categorised in the following way:

  • Large corporations, especially multinational organisations
  • Large national organisations e.g. a chain of shops or a government organisation
  • Large local organisations e.g. a local authority or hospital
  • Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SME)

The size and therefore complexity of the organisation will have an impact on the way you interact with them. The owner/manager of an SME may contact you directly to discuss a potential work experience opportunity, while a placement with a large multinational may be advertised via the company’s website and you are likely to have ongoing contact with someone a long way down the company hierarchy – a local manager or HR representative.

In addition you may find benefits in dealing with bodies which represent a group of employers. In the UK, Sector Skills Councils are funded by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES).

Sector Skills Councils (SSCs) are independent, employer-led, UK–wide organisations. The SSCs and the UK Commission are committed to working in partnership across the four nations to create the conditions for increased employer investment in skills which will drive enterprise and create jobs and sustainable economic growth. They share a belief that the sectoral approach is the most effective way to do this. - See more at this link.

Organisations also come together in groupings such as the Confederation of British Industry.

As well as their size, organisations are usually categorised depending on whether they are:

  • Public sector e.g. government, education, health
  • Private sector either privately owned or publicly traded
  • Not-for-profit such as charities and voluntary organisations

The structure of an organisation will be greatly affected by where it fits into these two sets of categories, as well as by the type of business it operates.

In addition, in the UK Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) can be used to classifying business establishments by denote the type of economic activity in which they are engaged. Held by the Office of National Statistics, the SIC is used in labour market research and is a convenient way to produce comparable data.

Activity 1

Your department will probably already have information about the organisations which have offered work experience in the past 12 months. Examine this information and categorise the employers according to the types outlined above. You may find it helpful to subdivide the categories according to the nature of the business. There is an example on this page, but develop your own if you prefer.

If this information is not readily available then start to collect it – starting from now for the next few months at least.

Post any reflections on doing this exercise to the forum.

Which categories attract the most interest from learners? Can you identify the reasons for this? Keep this information as you will need it later in the module.

Organisations will also differ in many ways in which they operate, which is best understood in order to develop effective working relationships.


Read Chapter Three ‘The Nature and Context of Organisations’ from ‘Management and Organisational Behaviour’ by Laurie J Mullins. p 75-126 (in part one). This is available as an e-book from the University of Warwick library from this link.

Activity 2

Think about the organisations you have had contact with over the last week in a personal as well as professional capacity. Not just your employer and the organisations you work with but also your supermarket, doctors, gym, schools, insurance companies, any other examples.

Note down some of the key characteristics of each organisation. You might wish to consider:

  • Size (small to large)
  • Degree of formality (informal to highly structured)
  • Degree of complexity (simple to complex)
  • Nature of goals (what the organisation is trying to achieve)
  • Major activities (what tasks are performed)
  • Types of people involved (age, skills, educational background etc)
  • Location (inc number of units)

Do you have any observations about the differences between them? How does this affect how you might engage with them?

Post a summary of one of these organisations on the forum, as well as general observations.

Functions within organisations

With the exception of the very smallest SMEs an organisation will have some sort of organisation structure which will influence both the opportunities they make available to your students and also the way in which you interact with them.

Activity 3

Draw an organisation chart for an organisation with which you are familiar – preferably an employer organisation but if not then your current or a previous employer. You can use whichever form of chart seems appropriate for the type of organisation.

Workforce Characteristics

The workforce, of course, is made up of people and there are lots of ways of examining their characteristics (sometimes called ‘slicing and dicing’), for example:

  • Age
  • Ability/Disability
  • Ethnicity
  • Gender
  • Qualifications
  • Skills
  • Occupation
  • Employment status (full-time, part-time etc)
  • Type of Employer
  • Industry Sector
  • Earnings

When you are advising learners about work experience opportunities, it is helpful for you to have an understanding of the workforce characteristics for the areas/sectors/occupations which are likely to be of interest.

An awareness of, for example, skills requirements and shortages, can also help you in talking to employers about how you can help them to refine their work experience offer (as covered in the Recruitment Process module).

We will look at this further in the section on labour market information below.