Work Experience

The logical failure of the 2017 CBI Education & Skills Survey

Like any membership lobbying organisation, the CBI support their members to make them look as good as possible and promote the greater value of and worth of business to society. They have their work cut out, surveys show that the general public is distrustful with less than half believing British businesses act ethically, so their annual survey of business leaders (The CBI/Pearson Education & Skills Survey) is a chance to shift the focus elsewhere.

The 2017 iteration is drawn from an online questionnaire completed by 344 employers. (It is worth comparing at the outset this methodology against other recent employer surveys such as the recent DfE Employer perspective survey (which I blogged on here) which was drawn from telephone interviews with over 18,000 establishments across the labour market including non-profit organisations but more on that later).

The scale of employer engagement in education is an important topic with the Careers & Enterprise Company (CEC) tasked with expanding this work to improve CEIAG provision and so prove the research evidence of the benefits to be gained for students. Future qualification and pathway policy is also heavily geared towards gaining employer buy in and engagement. This means that establishing a base point of employer engagement is vital in judging progress and knowing where to target resources. The CEC has already made progress in this area with their Cold Spots research. Using a range of data points and sources, this shows that outcomes for young people (much like HE progression and academic achievement rates) varies greatly across the different regions of the UK.

coldspots1

One of the data points used to model the amount of employer engagement is the UKCES Employer Perspectives Survey 2014. This is the preceding biannual release of the DfE Employer Perspective Survey mentioned above before the closure of the UK Commission for Employment and Skills in March 2017 which the DfE then took over.

That the CEC is using this data on employer engagement and not information published by the CBI is the first hint that the two sources on employer engagement tell very different tales.

The CBI survey offers useful views on the value business leaders places on their required skills from school leavers

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plus their satisfaction on school leaver skill levels

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and a plea for more young people to be speakers of foreign languages (page 34). The Employer Perspectives survey meanwhile does not break down employer satisfaction with school leavers into skill areas but by age of recruits (fig 3.7) so comparisons are difficult but, at all ages, it found employers were more satisfied than dissatisfied with the skill levels of their young recruits.

The survey begins to raise eyebrows though with the claims of employer engagement with education including the number of firms that offer work experience. Let’s remind ourselves what the 2017 Employer Perspectives Survey reported,

  • That 65% of employers thought that relevant work experience is a critical or significant factor when taking on a recruit but only 38% of employers had offered a work experience opportunity in the past 12 months
  • There is a huge variation between the sectors that offer work experience (fig 3.9)
  • Only 10% of employers offered work inspiration activities to students

This differs drastically to the findings of the CBI Survey that 81% of employers had some links with education

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and that these links were “extensive in all parts of the UK.” Not only is this claim widely divergent with the finding from a methodologically more detailed and comprehensive survey, it also undermines the very basis on which the CEC has prioritised its work across the country. Regarding employer links with education, the CBI says there are no cold spots.

The differences continue in the value of work experience with only 23% of businesses reporting that relevant work experience is an “important” factor when recruiting a young person (fig 2.1 pictured above) which is well below the 65% of employers reporting similar in the Employer Perspectives Survey. There is also a lack of consistency of expectations in the CBI results with employers also stating that 54% were not satisfied with school leavers relevant work experience (fig 2.3 pictured above). Why would employers be unsatisfied with something they’ve also deemed not important to recruitment?

The data on the types of provision employers offer through their links with schools is couched in a presentational sleight of hand as the percentages are offered as percentages of those business who have education links, not a percentage of the total businesses. Thus

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So the CBI is not claiming that 81% of employers provide careers advice talks but that 81% of the 81% with links to education provide careers advice talks. Because we have the total numbers of employers the CBI received responses from (344) we can work this back – 81% of 344 = 279, 81% of 279 = 225, 225 divided by 344 = the CBI is actually reporting that 65% of employers offer careers advice talks. The Employer Perspectives Survey concluded that just 10% of employers offer careers inspirations activities including careers talks.

The differences between the two surveys continue when discussing work experience. The CBI concludes (using the same method above) that around 63% of employers offer work experience placements. The Employer Perspectives Survey reported 38% of employers offered placements and that differences between industries can be stark.

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The CBI survey also includes business views on both the work of the CEC and the current state of CEIAG provision. They find that the CEC still has plenty of scope to increase their connections with business as only 7% of respondents were engaged with the Company.

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That 79% businesses were unaware of the work of the CEC is not surprising when you also consider that only 28% of employers are aware of the new GCSE grading system.

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The CBI though are wholly positive about the need and remit of the CEC

The CBI fully supports their work which has a focus on practical, enabling solutions.

and

Underpinned by sufficient resources, the CEC should play a major role in England in
supporting schools and businesses to develop productive relationships to the benefit of young people.

but the views of the businesses surveyed are extremely negative about the quality of CEIAG provision

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84% of businesses reporting that Careers advice is not good enough is an overwhelming verdict but also similar percentage to the four previous survey results show in 3.16. The CBI goes strong on its verdict on current Careers provision

These are seriously troubling results. They highlight the urgent need for radical improvement.

This all adds up to a muddled picture offered by the CBI.

They and the employers they surveyed are claiming that 81% of business have links with schools across the country, 65% offer careers advice talks and 63% offer work experience placements. This equates to a large-scale engagement with education yet, it is these same employers from whom 79% had not heard of the work of the CEC. It is from these same employers that less than a third were aware of the introduction of whole new GCSEs and grading systems. The same employers who are engaged with education to offer huge amounts of careers provision but 84% of them also reported unsatisfaction with the Careers advice offered. The solution offered by the CBI to change these views? More engagement with education through the CEC.

Establishing hard quantitative data on employer engagement is not easy as previous studies have shown. Using only limited survey data though can mean results with the failures of logic shown above. The CBI cannot continue to claim that the majority of employers are playing their part in provision only to then be overwhelmingly critical of the scale, quality and outcomes of that provision.

Good practice in organising work experience placements

It’s easy to forget that, below the headline announcements and big speeches, Government departments are usually just chugging away with administrating policy, managing change and commissioning and learning (hopefully) from research. A recent (March 2017) 148 page research report by the NatCen Social Research and SQW was published by the DfE entitled “Work experience and related activities in schools and colleges” whose aim was “to consider current provision and operational practice of work-related activities at schools and colleges in England.” Which isn’t really what it does, for it only really focuses on work experience provision and pays scant regard to other kinds of employe engagement.

Based on the results of over 700 survey responses and 278 interviews (all conducted in the 2016 Summer term) the report paints a picture of what methods schools and employers make use of and which they struggle with when planning, sourcing and organising work experience placements. (The report covers this process in both schools and Further Education Colleges but it’s the work with Pre 16 students that I will concentrate on here) It is full of interesting data regarding participation of students and barriers some perceive to taking up placements, how schools prepare students for placements, quality control of those placements and evaluate the impact on students post placement.

This all results in is a good practice guide that can help practitioners to offer effective work experience schemes

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and a recommendation to the DfE

Despite widespread acceptance of the importance of work-related activities in preparing young people for the world of work, and some common agreement about what constituted good practice, it was noted that the absence of clear guidance from the Department for Education in relation to work-related learning pre-16, meant that it was not always prioritised (whether in the curriculum or in staffing). The absence of guidance was felt to be particularly impactful when governors/ senior leaders needed to be persuaded of the benefits of delivering a structured programme of work-related activities. Detailed guidance related to pre-16 provision, therefore, is to be welcomed

which, I would imagine, is a plea that would be welcomed by CEIAG practitioners in schools.

Throughout, the report is full of interesting titbits, some of which caught my eye were:

  • Funding constraints are restricting school work in this area

It was felt that, in order to support an expansion of work related activities at a time when school and college budgets were tight, additional (central) funding was required

  • Employers are keen for placements to be longer than one week
  • Work experience is still the most common form of employer engagement offered by schools at KS4

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  • 66% of respondents send students out on placements in the Summer term and 86% organise block placements rather than separate days.
  • The most popular reason for timing of placements is to fit around programmes of learning 55% which suggests schools are not being flexible to the needs of employers or learners when planning such provision.
  • 24% report that “not finding enough placements” is the largest reason for not all students accessing placements while “lack of confidence” (89%) and “fear of the unknown” (81%) where the biggest challenges to students taking up placements which shows how important the personal support practitioners offer their students in the build up to placements is.
  • That some sectors of employment are clearly failing to find ways to offer enough placements to meet demand as schools report common difficulties (% of respondents reporting employment sectors where it was difficult to find placements)

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  • That concerns around health and safety and insurance are still holding employers back from offering placements
  • That schools are working with a range of organisations to help source placements

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(although note the low % working with Enterprise Advisers through the Careers & Enterprise Company is likely due to the Summer 2016 date of the survey when the organisation was much newer)

  • That far too few schools spend any time following up with employers post placements to provide feedback or assess how the placement went (% of schools who undertook follow activities with employers)

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The report also looks at the rationale and reasoning for running a work experience scheme in the first place and it is cheering to see the range of impacts and employers that schools believe such provision can have on young people, which makes the practical barriers that do exist when organising KS4 placements all the more frustrating.

Grofar

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Being online means, occasionally, companies and providers of services will get in touch to promote their Careers Education related products or ask for advice.

Last academic year I gave some time, alongside other Career Leaders and the CDI, to help the team at Grofar develop their Careers management platform. The Managing Director, James, visited me at my old school a number of times to test out new features and get feedback on how these would work in the practical day to day life of a school. I saw this week that the team at Grofar have been shortlisted for a CDI Career Development Award in the “Best Practice in the Use of Technology in Career Development” category. This is a deserved accolade as I saw how many iterations of the software the team worked through to shape the features of the final product to be as responsive as Careers Leaders in schools need it to be.

Grofar is a complete careers program management product. It is a database and recording tool, a planning and mapping tool, a central hub for all of the desk based stuff a Careers Leader in a school or college would do.

It allows you to plan your academic year of career events and provision, add to it as things pop up throughout the year, see where the gaps in your provision for each year group or subject area lie so to improve on for next year and then have your plan ready to show senior leaders or Ofsted at the touch of a button.

It allows you to integrate student data from CSV files or SIMS, track interventions for each student and send out meeting reminders through student emails. Destinations of leavers can be tracked and reports generated. Alumni records can be kept to use as a resource in future.

It can also help with the organisation and paperwork trail needed to secure properly vetted work experience placements if the school runs such a scheme.

In short, it offers to replace those folders of excel workbooks neatly saved on your school or college shared drive and post it notes stuck all over your monitor and school planner with a joined up record keeping and planning platform.

This isn’t free though and comes with a cost that Grofar do not want to make easily findable on their Pricing page. (I only vaguely remember what James said they would be aiming for).

To my mind, it’s frankly amazing that there are still companies out there willing to commit time and funds to developing careers products for an education system that is running on financial empty. Combine that with the wide range of free resources that can be found with a bit of research, then each sale must feel like pushing a boulder over a mountain. If you’re at a school that does purchase an annual licence for computer software or regularly buys physical products such as magazines or books, do let me know in the comments below as it’s good to hear the reasons why this is helping your practice and students in your setting.

A number of suppliers offering Careers products to schools still exist, Cascaid probably being the most well known who offer a range of both physical and computer products. But U-Explore, Trotman & Prospects Educational Resources also offer a number of physical & computer products.

All of these firms and more will be offering their wares at the National Career Guidance Roadshows coming up through February & March 2017 for you to go along and compare their products. For how long, there remains a market with funding able to allocate to such products, remains to be seen.

(This blog is not a sales pitch, I’ve included the links to Grofar so you can see for yourself the capabilities and layout of their product. You know your school budgets and priorities so, as a practitioner, you can make your own mind up where to allocate your resources.)

 

Let’s be clear about work experience for under 18s

It’s at this point of the academic year that one of the biggest frustrations of the job is in full effect for me. Namely, the short shift some of our Year 10 students receive when approaching employers about work experience placements due to the insistence that the company doesn’t offer placements to under 18s due to “insurance reasons.”

There seems to be no rhyme or reason between those who accept students, those who decline and the type of workplace environment involved.  Local aircraft engineering companies such as Gulfstream and Monarch go out of their way to offer us fantastic opportunities where students will be properly supervised working around mechanics and heavy equipment while retailers such as JD Sports and PC World decline to engage. Some of those businesses will genuinely believe that there is a special circle of Hell reserved just for the form filling needed to let anyone under the age of 18 into your place of work and some will just use it as a quick excuse (“If we let one do it, then it opens the floodgates!” they say, seemingly oblivious that the world’s 7 billion people aren’t turning up every morning expecting a paycheck despite the fact they do employ at least some of them). For those schools who still commit to providing Key Stage 4 work experience this belief and casual excuse is the biggest threat to securing worthwhile placements for their students. It is part of wider issue covered in-depth recently by the UK Commission for Employment & Skills in their report “Not Just Making Tea” in which they state that “74% of employers claim experience is significant or critical when recruiting young people. But despite the high demand for experience, just 27% of employers offer young people the chance to gain work experience.”

As Careers folk, we must shout this louder.

There are no “special insurances” that are needed to offer work experience to under 18s.

http://www.hse.gov.uk/youngpeople/workexperience/placeprovide.htm

Under health and safety law, work experience students are your employees. You treat them no differently to other young people you employ.

There is no onerous mountain of paperwork to be conquered.

http://www.hse.gov.uk/youngpeople/workexperience/cutting-bureaucracy.htm

Schools and colleges or others organising placements need to check the employer has risk management arrangements in place. Conversations between the placement organiser and the employer could simply be noted for reference.

In fact, the Government have paid special attention to make this all as clear and straight forward as possible so that work experience could realistically be one of the core components of the 16-19 Study Programmes.

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/post-16-work-experience-as-a-part-of-16-to-19-study-programmes

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/ministers-to-end-work-experience-health-and-safety-confusion

Judith Hackitt, Chair of the Health and Safety Executive, said

There is no need for lots of paperwork or an over-cautious approach. Employers who are already managing the risks in their business effectively for employees are unlikely to need to do anything in addition for work experience. Schools and colleges just need to ask a few questions to ascertain that appropriate measures are in place. There is no need to conduct their own risk assessments

And, always remember, that the aims of work experience are fully supported by leading Business groups who want schools to engage with these sort of schemes.

http://www.cbi.org.uk/campaigns/getting-the-uk-working/making-young-people-job-ready/

Here is the official HSE leaflet you could print and distribute to your students and parents and use yourself when approaching employers.

http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg364.pdf

Of course, some businesses will have had a poor experience in the past with a student, or won’t feel there are suitable tasks for a young person and some simply won’t be sure they have the capacity to properly supervise the student and, when they explain why they don’t offer placements, I listen, I try to encourage them to reconsider, I leave my contact details and (hopefully, however small) at least a moment of consideration to the idea. But at least they explain their reasoning and it’s based on experience and reality. Not a false idea of a barrier that doesn’t even exist. However long the journey may be to persuade more employers that this is indeed the case, we can do some of the legwork to persuade, cajole and engage.

The work experience visit: Dance 2 “the gee up”

Goes a little something like this.

Me: “So, this looks great, what sort of stuff have they had you doing?”

Student: “Well, I pick up the stuff from here..”

Me: “Uhuh”

Student: “And I put then I put it over there.”

Me: “Right, right, sounds like physical stuff! I’m sure you’ve been going home tired every night!”

Student – just looks at me

Me: “So what sort of skills do you think you’ve been able to display on the placement then?”

Student: “Well, my ability to pick stuff up. And then put it down again.”

Me: “Been working in a team at all?”

Student: “No.”

Me: “Riiiiight, so you’ve shown a lot of perseverance to get the job done.”

Student: “Yes.”

Me: “Has it helped you think about your future at all?”

Student: “Yep. Not to do a job like this.”

Me: “Okayeeee. But I hope you see, the fact that you’re sticking with it is really good. Still doing a good job, even though you don’t like it shows you’re a dedicated person.”

Student: “I tweeted some friends last night. Daniel has been working on a new design for a wing mirror on a F1 car.”

Me: “Sounds like he’s been thrown in the deep end.”

Student: “I told him about the 3 different types of scaffold I’ve been carrying.”

Me: “Well done for sticking with it. It really will impress College.”

Student: “What’s happening back at school?”

Me: “Not much, it’s very quiet with all you lot out.”

Student: “I miss it.”

The work experience visit: Dance 1 “the push & pull”

Goes a little something like this:

Employer: “We don’t normally do work experience but I know his mum so we made an exception.”

Me: “Well, we’re really grateful that you did, it’s hard to find quality placements. How’s he been?”

Employer: “Really good actually, we’ve been able to give him a lot more to do than we thought we would.”

Me: “So he’s shown an interest in the business, asked intelligent questions?”

Employer: “Yeah, it took him a while to come out of his shell but he’s cottoned on very quickly.”

Me: “So, it’s been a positive experience?”

Employer: “Yeah, he’s really got on with things.”

Me: “So you might think about running it next year as well?”

Employer: “Well, maybe…”

Me: “That would brilliant if you could. Like I said, we’re always on the lookout for quality placements.”

Employer: “Well, I’ve got to speak to HR…”

Me: “Of course, but we could help get the right students to you, bring them over for a chat, ask them to submit a letter of application…”

Employer: “And then there’s the health & safety…”

Me: “You’d be surprised how easy that is now, for the paperwork you just treat them like an employee really.”

Employer: “Our Director would have to have the final say.”

Me: “Of course, but we really do appreciate interesting placements like this though.”

Employer: “Well, like I said, we’ll see.”

Me: “You’ve got my number if you need to talk about it.”

Employer: “Sure.”

Me: “Look forward to hearing from you soon.”

Employer: “Sure.”