Addressing employability within education institutions must involve employers Addressing employability within education institutions must involve employers

Employer engagement 

The UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES 2009 p.19) recently summarised employer engagement as:

  • "Drawing on the expertise and authority of employers to help individuals acquire employability skills
  • Involving employers in the process to make it real to the learners
  • Empowering employers to insist on the employability skills they need, rather than those the provider is most comfortable delivering"

There are a number of ways in which this engagement can take place in practice. A typology of employer engagement in a teaching and learning context has recently been developed by the University of Reading's Centre for Career Management Skills (Stanbury forthcoming). The typology identifies eight different ways in which employer engagement can feature and is listed below. Where they exist UEA examples are given for each type.

1. Industry in the lecture room

Inviting employers or industry representative into the School to give talks as part of particular academic courses or to participate in School events. A number of UEA Schools already invite guest lecturers from non-academic organisations. There is scope for extending the remit of these talks beyond specifically subject related content to wider industry issues and applications.

2. Industry advice on the curriculum

This is arguably the most important way of producing graduates whose academic knowledge, experience and abilities align with the labour market. It includes involving and consulting industry representatives in the formal course review and development process and in curriculum design.

3. Work-based learning (industrial placements, work experience)

This includes formal opportunities for work experience, often with close collaboration between the School and the employer. An essential component of most healthcare related degrees such as Pharmacy and Nursing, there is scope for providing placement opportunities in a much wider range of subject areas. The School of Environmental Sciences, for example, has a well established Year in Industry programme. A compulsory element of the programme is the Work Based Learning unit requiring placement students to write a 4000 word report on their employing organisation and a 15 minute Powerpoint presentation. Both assignments require the student to reflect on their experience and self-development. Student feedback is systematically collected and used to further develop the unit.

4. Work-related learning

Academic courses may involve elements of work-related learning that utilise employer contact, particularly from local organisations. This includes student projects that require some level of external collaboration, research internships, activities that simulate workplace scenarios and employer involvement in assessment. Work related learning activities have the potential to recreate the uncertain and dynamic quality of a real workplace, for example by allowing the possibility of failure and creating consequences for poor performance or poor punctuality.

5. Business mentoring relationships

Mentoring by business representatives for course participants.

6. Employability modules (e.g. Career Management Studies)

Taught modules incorporating or specialising in employability and career management skills. See 'Career management and education' section.

7. Accreditation programmes (e.g. IET, BCS)

Programmes accredited by the appropriate professional body. UEA examples include the MPharm programme accredited by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society; and Nursing and Midwifery programmes accredited by the Nursing and Midwifery Council.

8. Sponsorship

Includes, but not confined to sponsoring of employability related activities such as recruitment fairs or course materials.

UKCES (2009) The Employability Challenge. UK Commission for Employment and Skills. Executive Summary (PDF), Case Studies (PDF), Full Report (PDF).