University of Bristol has a university-wide approach to employer engagement

Aug 8, 2022 | Attraction & marketing, Case studies

University of Bristol explains how it is developing a university-wide, and civic approach to employer engagement.

Our Employer Engagement plan (2021-2026) has been developed with employers, business organisations and senior academics, and recognises the need to continually evolve our offer to meet changing employer requirements.

The strategy focuses on four main themes:

  • A catalyst for regional economic development
  • Enhancing the student and employer experience
  • Increasing the level of employer engagement in the curriculum
  • Leading employer partnerships across the university

Now more than ever, students need real experiences not just employer events. Our innovative approach includes building scalable, experiential learning provision and employer-led projects.

We do this in partnership with academics to deliver experiences to students on mass that will develop their commercial, digital, and work-based skills, increase their awareness of graduate employers; all of which informs their career decision making.

We advocate for employer engagement to become central to students’ university experience. In a university-wide approach, we challenge the misconception that it is an extracurricular activity by embedding it into the curriculum.


What we have done

It is vital that all students are exposed to our industry connections extensively throughout their student journey and that these interactions be embedded in the curriculum to enhance students’ skills, sector knowledge and opportunity awareness. We have moved beyond transactional relationships with employers to create broader and more impactful strategic partnerships.

Our Curriculum Framework highlights the importance of creating opportunities for students to explore challenging real-world problems. We have increased the intensity of employer engagement activity in the curriculum and developed more real-world challenges to help employers engage passive candidates to reduce attainment gaps and positively impact social mobility.

The Bridge Group, Social Mobility and Careers Services Report says, “Employers should deliver more curriculum-based interactions with universities, to place less emphasis on ‘prestigious’ events at which students self-select to attend”

Our employer engagement provision also plays a key role for us in being a catalyst for local economic growth. Central to supporting this agenda has been creating efficient mechanisms for the regional business community to access talent from the University of Bristol. These local initiatives support the Levelling Up agenda, create highly skilled roles for our students and support the retention of graduate talent in the region.

How it works

As part of our strategy, there is more of a focus on how we can enhance the employer and student experience. We are working with employers more strategically to enhance their relationship with the university and improve student outcomes.

One example of our work is how we collaborate with Strategic Employer Partners to take more of a data informed approach. We do this by reviewing recruitment data to identify where students are falling in their assessment processes. We work with employers to create development initiatives to increase their number of University of Bristol hires. This also improves our students’ graduate outcomes.

James Darley, CEO & Founder of Transform Society recently commented: “The University of Bristol has been the pioneer of working strategically (with external partners) and is now reaping the rewards. The results speak for themselves over the past few years, seeing a 70% increase in applications and a 65% increase in hires.”

We are continually evolving our employer services and work with our partners to, for example, improve efficiency offered by digital delivery, and blended models, whilst staying focused on how this delivers on the needs of different employer and student segments.

For example:

  • Tailored events to support employers’ diversity, social mobility, and sustainability agendas
  • Mentoring schemes targeted at widening participation students to deliver social mobility
  • Consultancy, data, and insights to inform attraction activities and drive ROI for employers
  • Sector intelligence events for employers to share knowledge with students
  • Efficiently connecting employers to academic departments and student societies
  • Strategic partnerships with, for example, Bristol Students’ Union.

Employers are hugely complimentary about our consultative approach. For example, Teach First commented”

“Accessing the careers services at Bristol couldn’t be easier. The team are always full of knowledge and ready to support with any recruitment ideas I have, whilst providing endless opportunities to engage with students. Their events are always so organised, well thought out and fun for both employers and students to attend, meaning we have had some extremely successful recruitment campaigns.

There are a wide range of services offered across the university that engage employers. The overall offer is comprehensive, but potentially complex to employer partners.

By working in collaboration with teams across the university, we are becoming a central hub for employers to support and help them navigate and connect to other parts of the university, depending on the needs of their business.  This is vital in providing a joined-up approach to employers, whilst allowing for wider, and more permeable, partnerships to be developed.


How it’s benefiting students/employers

We delivered a real-world, employer-led project module to 400 students for first year politics students, which was driven by a senior academic who identified a skills development gap.

This is now being delivered at Masters’ level in politics, with versions being developed for other disciplines. These employer-led project modules are deliberately designed to be agile, explore current challenges and be relevant in the future world of work, for example sustainability:

“Students worked in small groups over the course of the unit to develop a proposed solution to getting Bristol to carbon neutral by 2030. We saw some brilliantly innovative ideas proposed in the final presentations, with students demonstrating their teamwork, communication, and problem-solving skills,” said an academic.

Other projects have included:

  • Developing a marketing campaign for a mobile application for epilepsy patients
  • Research into the Islamic Finance market in the UK
  • A digital refresh and market exploration for a local SME

“The fact that the students have already completed business skills training before they join your company, is hugely beneficial and makes it distinctive,” said Barbal.

This activity, supplemented by elements such as placements, innovative work experience models, Bristol PLUS Award, City Challenges, study abroad and international opportunities, has allowed us to create a comprehensive package of employer-led opportunities for University of Bristol students.

Students have responded very positively to increased employer engagement through the curriculum:

“We weren’t being told about what people think industry wants, it was industry telling us what they want.”

“A project-based approach is an excellent way to teach many of the ‘fuzzy’ and hard-to articulate nuances of software engineering such as team dynamics and making architecture decisions.”

The University of Bristol are a finalist in ISE Awards 2022 for Best University & Employer Engagement Strategy.

Read more award winning case studies 


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