Recognising why businesses work with schools will help careers leaders to forge positive relationships, writes ISE chief research officer Tristram Hooley.
Encounters with employers (the goal of Gatsby Benchmark 5) have been shown to boost students’ chances of finding employment and the salaries they receive. Such benefits create a strong rationale for schools to reach out to employers.
However, much less has been said about the advantages employers gain from working with schools. It is useful for careers leaders to understand and articulate these in order to encourage businesses to work with them and so forge mutually favourable relationships.
Employers work with schools in order to:
- Address future skills shortages and ensure the education system equips students with the skills they need in the long term
- Source new talent directly, finding people that they need for early careers and building brand visibility among young people
- Grow (and demonstrate) a responsible corporate brand
- Develop their own staff, by providing their people with learning and development opportunities through volunteering in schools
Recruiting talented people and building a pipeline
It will come as little surprise to teachers that businesses are keen to future-proof their talent pipelines and are aware that there are worrying skills shortages.
UK STEM businesses, in particular, continue to highlight science-skills shortages. In January, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry warned that skills gaps must be addressed for the UK to maintain its world-leading position for medicines and vaccines research and development.
According to the Department for Education’s Employer Skills Survey 2017, the overall number of skills shortage vacancies has grown from 91,000 in 2011 to 226,000 in 2017. Some of the highest densities of skills-shortage vacancies can be found in construction, utilities, transport, manufacturing and information/ communication.
Two key types of skills were identified as lacking: technical and practical skills (specific skills required to per form the functions of a job role) and people and personal skills (softer skills required to manage oneself and interact with others).
While the exact skills shortages individual businesses face will vary by sector and region, the opportunity to influence what schools teach and the options students choose will appeal to most businesses keen to address these challenges.
Employers will also be keen to reflect back to schools the areas they would like them to give greater emphasis and help them to build these into the curriculum. In a recent ISE survey, we asked employers what skills their school-leaver recruits lacked. Business-appropriate communication and commercial awareness topped the list, followed by dealing with conflict, leadership and managing up.
As well as future-proofing pipelines, employers are also keen to recruit high-quality people directly into their businesses today. About 10% of young people start work or an apprenticeship at the age of 16 and some 30% start at 18.
ISE employers are typically larger companies interested in recruiting young people. We found that 68% of our members are now recruiting to a school-leaver programme or into apprenticeships. They are therefore likely to be keen to work with local schools to ensure the transition into employment is as smooth as possible.
Corporate social responsibility
Today, most firms have a ‘corporate social responsibility’ agenda which sets out how their business behaves in the world and allocates time and resources to ‘good causes’ — which include helping to develop young people and aiding social mobility.
The idea of ‘growing a responsible brand’ goes beyond altruism. It is not just about why an employer might want to do good, but also how they want their organisation and brand to be viewed – and schools can leverage this. Teachers, students and their parents are potential customers of organisations that provide goods or services, so it is important to ensure they are perceived in a positive light.
The idea of 'growing a responsible brand' goes beyond altruism
Of course, enabling their employees to volunteer with schools not only allows businesses to give back to the community but helps to build their people’s confidence, communication and leadership skills.
Opportunities to do good and to follow their interests can be intensely rewarding for individuals, enhancing employee engagement and job satisfaction. It is certainly worth careers leaders considering employer encounters from the employee perspective and designing them with care, preparing their students and environments for external visitors.
Individual businesses have their own reasons for working with educators — some of which may differ to those of schools. However, if careers leaders are willing to invest time in trying to understand the employer perspective, they can improve both the frequency and quality of the employer encounters they offer their students.
The Institute of Student Employers (ISE) is a not-for-profit member organisation and the UK’s leading voice for student employers. ise.org.uk