How to build productive partnerships with schools and colleges

Dec 2, 2021 | Apprentices & school leaver

A growing number of employers recognise that there are strong reasons for engaging with schools and colleges, we explain how to best approach it.

There are many benefits of engaging with schools. These include corporate social responsibility and taking a long-term view of candidate relationship management. But there are over 4,000 secondary schools across the UK and they are notoriously difficult to engage with. So, how do you build a productive partnership with a school?


Building productive partnerships with schools

All schools have a statutory requirement to deliver ‘career guidance’. In practice this is interpreted as meaning that they have to meet the Gatsby Benchmarks – a list of eight benchmarks for good careers guidance that schools have to meet in their careers programmes.

This includes a requirement to provide ‘meaningful encounters with employers’ and ‘experiences of the workplace’. So, this gives schools a strong reason to want to talk to employers, but the careers agenda is still a small part of what they do.

All schools in England should have a Careers Leader who will be your main point of contact for anything to do with careers. Their details should be available on the school’s website.

Schools in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland operate in a slightly different way, but there should still be a key point of contact in each school. If in doubt approach the head teacher (although they are likely to be busier and so more difficult to work with).

Your key question should be ‘How can I build this school into my outreach and recruitment activities without involving extra work for them?

Firstly, look at their strategy and think about how what you do could support this.  All schools are different, they have different demographics, targets and foci. Statutory guidance requires that schools post their careers programme, and contacts for the careers leader, on their website, so this is a good place to start.

Teachers are often fire fighting, so they need to want to work with you. Remember, what schools want is not necessarily what you want to deliver.

Take the burden off them and produce materials to help them save time and they will be more likely to want to give you access and recommend your business or initiative to their students.

And reassure them that you are in it for the long term. Your strategy may well be loss-making during the first couple of years so if you approach it as a quick fix you are unlikely to succeed.


Some key points to consider:

  • Translate your industry language (jargon!) into plain English. Do not expect the teachers to understand your terminology.
  • For younger year groups it is more important to talk about your sector, profession and importance of thinking about a career than it is to focus on recruitment.
  • School will be nervous about what they perceive as ‘hard sell’ recruitment.
  • Consider when it is best for you to engage. Schools and young people will not necessarily be working to the same cycle as you. Talk to the school to make sure that you get it right.

If approaching schools directly seems daunting, a good place to start is with The Careers & Enterprise Company which is a national organisation that oversees careers provision in schools and colleges. The Careers & Enterprise Company maintains a series of Careers Hubs across the country that can be a good place to start.

It is also worth considering building partnerships with other employers to help you to engage with more schools collectively. Another option is to search the directory of the Association of Education Business Professionals to find intermediaries to partner with.

Perhaps unlike other partnerships, when a relationship goes badly with a school it is likely to result in unresponsiveness. Teachers may not have the time or inclination to engage with you and may just have moved on to something easier.


Building productive partnerships with colleges

Further Education Colleges can often get overlooked in engagement strategies.

Of the 244 colleges in England, 168 are further education general colleges, offering a range of vocational and academic programmes, including apprenticeships.

Many students at the 51 sixth form colleges will be looking to progress to university. In total, 137,000 students at colleges are studying higher education, so they are a rich ground for early talent.

In fact, according to an Association of Colleges study, 68% of employers viewed college leavers as well prepared for work.

Some of the principles of working with colleges are the same as for schools. However, they are more likely to have a dedicated careers person/team as a point of engagement.

The vocational nature of some of the education that takes place in colleges is also likely to mean a more structured way of working with employers. But there is still a need to be clear about goals and to be able to articulate those in ways that careers leaders and tutors will understand. Why is your organisation/your strategy/your talent requirement different to another employer’s?

The wide range of levels of courses at colleges can mean engagement at T Level, apprenticeship at multiple levels, and A Level. Obvious opportunities are experiences of work to support the qualifications, but even if these aren’t right for your business, engagement with the students on skills and career pathways will be welcomed by the careers team and tutors alike.

The larger colleges are complex organisations with considerable influence at a local and regional level, and in the same way as for universities, there may be multiple ways to engage in a strategic way. Be open-minded and prepared for collaborative conversations.


This is an excerpt from ISE’s Complete Guide to Student Recruitment and Development

Read more insight and know how from ISE’s Guide

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