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Research report

Employer engagement in education

Anthony Mann and James Dawkins

This important report was undertaken for CfBT (now Education Development Trust) by the Education and Employers Taskforce. It reviews existing and new evidence about how employer engagement can improve on the learning and progression of young people.

This research comes during a time of major change to the policy environment. The Wolf Report has required schools and colleges to think afresh about how they provide young people with experience of work and for the first time it is a requirement for study programmes to include a spell of work experience. At a time when there have been major changes to careers provision Ofsted, in its 2013 review of how schools are meeting their new statutory duty, made it abundantly clear that the new arrangements are not working well enough.

The report draws on insights from a number of evidence sources:

  • a review of UK and international research literature
  • a unique survey of 556 teaching staff
  • eight semi-structured interviews and focus groups with teaching staff and young people in schools across England.

The report highlights clearly the need for schools and colleges to embrace a broader range of employer engagement activities. Strategic approaches to employer engagement will recognise that one size does not fit all and that engagement activities are relevant across secondary education. As survey data clearly shows, approaches which combine careers exploration, hands-on learning experiences and first-hand experience of working environments are likely to optimise outcomes.

The report provides new perspectives in setting out the high value of employer engagement as a means of providing young people with access to reliable information which has the potential to influence thinking and behaviour. There is a widespread view that employer engagement enhances attainment primarily through improving motivation, and also that young people are able to make more informed decisions at 14, 16 and 18 if they are able to relate their educational choices to understanding of employment opportunities and the demands of recruiters.

Evidence is compelling that school-mediated employer engagement does enhance the school-to-work transitions of young people: the more they have the better, in the early labour market: hence the high value of multiple, short, career-focused interventions. Where pupils are particularly disengaged from education, there is clear support for more intensive exposures to the working world through mentoring, extended work experience or work-related learning educational programmes. For higher achievers, evidence is strong that personalised use of employer engagement can help secure access to the most competitive undergraduate courses. Here, young people often need to demonstrate insight into careers related to their courses of study and the advantages of post-16 job shadowing become clear.

This review represents a first attempt to collate insights into such strategic uses of employer engagement to support pupils' learning and progression. Its value will be greatest for those schools and colleges reflecting on what they do, when they do it and which groups of young people they do it to.

The literature review which underpins this research is also available to download as a separate document.