How schools can engage employers

Oct 10, 2019 | Apprentices & school leaver

Amandeep Jaspal, Careers and Employability Specialist at Highgate School, explains how she is working with employers to develop an effective careers strategy.

Changes in legislation, such as the introduction of the Gatsby Benchmarks, have put a long overdue spotlight on the careers activity taking place in schools nationally. It feels like there’s no better and more exciting time to be involved in developing the employability of our young people at this crucial stage in their education, ensuring they are as prepared as they can be for an unknown future.

Highgate School is entering its second year of ISE membership. Access to research and a network of more than 500 leading employers of students are among the many benefits that are helping me in my role where such a crucial part involves ensuring our pupils are prepared for the working world that lies ahead of them. Here are some of the key learnings from my experiences with employers and ISE members.

Building industry contacts

I was invited to be part of a panel session at the ISE Apprenticeship conference earlier this year and it was great to have the opportunity to share insights and personal reflections with others, particularly employers.

Yes, it meant that my ‘to-do’ list remained unticked for another day, but the conversations that take place at events like these are invaluable for identifying mutual needs and creating forums for demystifying some of the challenges that employers face with schools.

Some of the topics we discussed included: What is the best way for schools and employers to engage with each other? How can employers get pupils to know about their opportunities? How can employers develop work experience opportunities?

These discussions are more fruitful for schools when they are held with those directly able to make the necessary changes to improve school/employer engagement – such as ISE members. Naturally, events such as these lead to people making new connections and identifying key points of contact for future initiatives.

Monitoring progress

Maintaining effective employer relationships is crucial to building a successful careers strategy in schools. Critical to this is monitoring progress, capturing data and taking action as a result.

One of the most useful things for shaping and developing the strategy at Highgate School has been gathering feedback at every stage we can. Some of the questions we ask are: What did employers think about the skills that pupils demonstrated when they completed work experience with them? What did pupils take away from an employer session?

Statistics and quotes are incredibly powerful in communicating your progress and requirements to other parts of the school as well as shaping future activity and highlighting clear actions to take.

Going forward, acting on the feedback in collaboration with employers and starting the process again ensures you’re forming a genuine, mutually beneficial partnership.

Understanding the market and employer needs

Current and reliable labour market information plays an important role in ensuring careers information is up-to-date and effective for pupils.

As well as one-to-ones to explore individual options with students, I run fortnightly sessions for Year 12 to focus on interview skills. These have had positive feedback and learnings were highlighted at the end of the year when we held practice job interviews with external volunteers. The fact that we received great feedback from the interviewers on the quality of our pupils’ responses served as a positive indicator that our careers activity is on the right track.

Technological advancement has changed how employers recruit, so it’s also important to keep up-to-date with the tools and approaches that firms are taking to select candidates for work experience, apprenticeships and jobs. It’s also advantageous to have an awareness of the skills that employers want and need, both now and in the future, enabling the sharing of useful, relevant advice with pupils.

ISE surveys have highlighted a trend towards use of video interviewing and strengths-based questioning. In response we have been able to factor these into our sessions, giving our pupils the opportunity to become more comfortable with the reality of what they’re likely to face in their first steps into employment. I’m now turning my attention to some of the emerging trends around use of virtual reality and gamified assessment with excitement!

ISE is now inviting schools to join its community.

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