employer engagement

A picture collection: Bored students at Careers events

Getting CEIAG events organised, planned and running is no mean feat. You’ve done all of the prep work, you’ve booked the guests months in advance, managed to find a free room and then held off other members of staff trying to see if they can pinch it at the last-minute, you’ve reserved a parking space, smoothed things over with the lesson teachers that will have to supervise pupils a little over excited that something different is happening and then, the time arrives.

Your Careers event is finally taking place.

Perhaps a member of the Senior Team pops their head in and agrees that “it’s very important that they think of their futures, isn’t it,” perhaps the speaker isn’t as jovial or attention grabbing in front of the rows of hard to impress teenagers as they were in your planning meeting, perhaps the TA you were promised is off sick without cover and you…well, you just want everything to go well. You would like the pupils to get something positive from the event, for the feedback sheets to show they’ve taken something in and begun to reflect on their own future but it would also just be great if you could get a quick photo for the school website to show parents and the world that Careers work does happen here. Now you just need to find those interested looking faces to take a quick pic…

Classic “is this really going to last till break miss?” face on the young lady

 

Never snap when the 2am GTA streaming session is about to show itself in a yawn (bottom right 2nd pic)

 

A classic example of the “always frame it to miss out the back row kids” rule

 

“Sir! I said don’t take a photo!”

 

Add your own examples in the comments, none of us have been immune to the odd sour face messing up a photo of a great CEIAG event. Once, on a trip to a Russell Group University, I had a Year 10 flat-out refuse to take part in the group photo at the end of the day and went and stood by the car. The rest of group soon followed which meant I had a full on strike on my hands and had no photo for an expectant Headteacher looking for a good news story when we got back. I hope you enjoy your start to the new school year and are planning lots of exciting CEIAG events for teenagers to look nonplussed in.

Advertisements

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

cbi2

plus their satisfaction on school leaver skill levels

cbi1

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

cbi3

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

cbi4

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.

skills report4

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.

cbi5

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.

cbi6

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

cbi7

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.

When is experience of the world of work, actually experience of the world of work?

Any business that invests time, staff commitment and funding into careers related activities should be applauded and encouraged by those of us keen to engage. Most engagement activities usually fall into a well versed range of formats of interaction (from p20) that fit with the time and schedule commitments both parties are able to invest so new ideas and resources are always intriguing. This is why I noticed the launch of “The World’s first immersive work experience simulator: The LifeSkills Pod” from Barclays last week.

 

As a whole, the Lifeskills program is an outstanding corporate effort to offer young people insights into employability. I find the lesson plans very good and adaptable, the site offers applicable advice for young people, the ability to secure actual work experience placements is great and the backing they have received means they have been able to spread the word to parents as well through TV advertising.

The Lifeskills Pod looks like huge fun for students and the launch gained an enormous (for a careers resource) amount of press coverage in national titles such as the Guardian, the local press and digital focused publications. In all of those write ups, alongside the main positive PR message, journalists can’t also help but draw the conclusion that this resource only exists due to the insufficient number of work experience opportunities for students. The Careers leader of the school involved in the launch is quoted as voicing a problem all careers practitioners will be familiar with,

It was difficult to find quality work experience placements for the 270 students in the year group, said Simon Beck, the assistant head teacher of Lister Community school, with some students reporting they only made tea and had not gained any useful skills.

As a result, the school scrapped the work experience placement scheme and replaced it with a world of work week.

which is a fine solution but, ultimately, doesn’t help confront the problem of the mismatch between the demand for work experience and the scarcity of opportunities on offer to young people.

The demand from employers for prospective employees to have work experience completely exceeds the number of employers who actually offer work experience and that is even before the quality of the work experience placements on offer is considered. This conundrum was best highlighted by Sarah O’Connor writing in the FT about the Pod’s launch (for those without an FT log in, a screen shot is here).

The UK Commission for Employment and Skills, a government-funded organisation, surveyed 18,000 employers last year and found that 80 per cent offered no work experience placements to schools. Yet two-thirds said work experience was the most critical factor when they recruit.

At which point we should ask how does the experience of the Lifeskills Pod measure up against the learning opportunities that real life work experience offers and where does it fit in the full range of “experience of the world of work” activities?

Vs actual work experience

In the Pod, students watch pre-recorded video on a TV screen, choose from a multiple choice set of actions to resolve an issue and interact with a large touch screen in a small room for around ten minutes. Many of the learning opportunities we would all recognise from traditional work experience are absent from this, the young person takes no responsibility for planning their journey to work to arrive on time, they do not learn to cope with the tiredness that comes from a longer working day, they do not see how colleagues interact with each other in professional situations, they do not have to adapt their body language to cope with different interactions etc. The feedback from the students in all of the articles indicates that they felt the virtual situations made them think about the professional course of action in each short scenario and is clearly positive but I fear that this does not mean that the experience was substantive enough to qualify as “work experience.” How much value, for example, would a prospective future employer confer to the inclusion of “attended a Lifeskills Pod session” on a CV compared to an actual period of work experience?

Vs “experience of the world of work”

If the Pod does not attempt to realistically mirror work experience, does it then offer students the benefits of experiencing the world of work similar to some of the other activities linked to above? The research from the Education & Employers Taskforce is useful here because it considers all experiences of the world of work and offers the Employer Engagement Cycle as a way of describing those benefits. For example the Pod could offer students the chance to improve their confidence and practice skills desired by employers in a low pressure environment that would enhance their Human capital skills. As the evidence from the Education & Employers Taskforce suggests though, the impact short, episodic, non assessed employer engagement experiences offer is considered to have little benefit to individuals. Where the real benefit from such experience comes from is in the Social and Cultural capital sections. The human networks gained from actual work experience are missing from the Pod experience, there is no individually tailored advice or interactions with older colleagues whose voices are seen as ‘authentic’ and there is no human link made to call back on for a reference or further opportunities later on in the student’s progression.

The media reporting of the launch is reductive but clearly positions the resource as a replacement for work experience rather than an employability resource.

lifeskillspod1

which is over-reaching the gains of the activity and, again, only highlights why such a resource would be needed in the first place, as O’Connor notes in the FT

The simulator is a nifty idea, but it is also a sign that too many employers are doing too little for the next generation.

The use of a range of employer engagement activities to supplement and support work experience is best practice careers work and advocated by all stakeholders in the sector such as the CDI and the Gatsby Foundation. It is the foundation of such initiatives as the London 100 hours challenge and offers both education providers and employers the greatest flexibility to get involved. Within the range of this engagement comes though a responsibility to properly signal what all stakeholders can expect from each activity. Overselling or overreaching the experience, benefits or likely outcomes of a resource or activity is only likely to lead to the perceived ‘gap’ in employability skills widening and stakeholders retracting from those activities which do require significant commitment such as actual work experience.

Which all means the Pod should be considered as a resource much like any other virtual, online careers experience. Used with students alongside a range of other activities (such as in the “world of work” week mentioned above) the Pod is a fantastically exciting resource, but this does not mean it should be seen as a solution for the lack of work experience placements currently offered by UK businesses to schools.

The Employer Engagement Cycle

the-employer-engagement-cycle

This blog from the Education and Employers taskforce is worth linking to and reading in it’s entirety for a reminder of why employer engagement matters.

When you’re struggling to plan in employer engagement provision in school, perhaps because the employers are hard to reach or Senior Leaders are being protective over missed learning time or it seems there’s just too much else on the school calendar, it’s always worth remembering why such provision matters. The evidence is clear, everyone involved in employer engagement (student, education & businesses) report positive outcomes and the actual quantitative data for students shows the impact in their destinations and earnings potential.

The research joins a growing body of literature that demands policy makers and practitioners think afresh of employer engagement initiatives, how they relate to a young person’s wider life and what truly drives the significant benefits many appear to experience.

Workshop at David Andrews 17th Annual CEG conference November 2014

David has very kindly asked me to lead a workshop at his forthcoming conference for CEG advisers in schools in November. I’ve been tasked to cover “Practical approaches to building employer engagement activities into a school careers program” in my slot. I’ve never been to this annual conference but some local colleagues attended last year and loved it so I’m very excited about some quality careers learning and hearing from the headline speakers such as Tristram Hooley and Karen O’Donoghue, but also I’m extremely conscious that I want to put on a worthwhile session. Getting the financial backing to attend any CPD isn’t easy these days (even to competitively priced events like this) so I’m very mindful that any delegates that do come and see me (those lost on their way to the toilets, those who ticked the wrong box on the booking sheet etc) feel that they’ve got a lot of value from the session.

So, if you were/are attending, what would you find helpful to hear about and discuss regarding engaging employers and getting them into school? I’ve got numerous hilarious and highly detailed tales of never-ending email trails about organising visits or speakers (“and then, we had to change it to the 14th because it clashed with a science practical!”) but I sense that the CEIAG world might not yet be ready for such high stakes drama. So far my rough plan is to cover not just the different types of interaction we have done and do but the conditions in school that help get those interactions on the timetable in the first place, experiences that have got the best feedback from students, things I’ve thought worked well and some cringe worthy nuggets of when things go terribly wrong thrown in for good measure.

Let me know what you would place value on hearing about either in the comments below or through twitter. Thanks.

 

Geeking out with @Edu_Employers research conference talks

The theory and statistics behind education and employer engagement and youth transitions into the labour market is exciting stuff isn’t it?

No wait, come back, IT IS. Or at least I find it to be. I find the theory and narratives found in the data (and by “found” I mean presented to me in easy to understand graphs by Professor types) allow me to speak to parents and students with much more clarity on the prospects ahead of them, compare the value of the routes on offer locally in a wider context away from the marketing hype and just generally be confident in that I have a better idea in what the hell I’m talking about when people are looking to you for guidance on that hardest of things to predict; the future.

These videos are from the Education and Employers Taskforce Research Conference January 2014.

Professor Alison Wolf – On the death of the youth job market, how the growth of youth unemployment in the 18-24 age bracket is seriously worrying, the comparison with between the value of a degree in the UK to Europe and how the Apprenticeship system is failing the under 19s, the age group who needs them most.

 

Dr Anna Mazenod – On the difference between Apprenticeship policy and rhetoric for the under 19s and actual system delivery in the UK compared to other EU countries (spoiler: we’re still not doing right by just asking employers nicely to play ball and not requiring them to play ball).

 

Dr Anthony Mann & Dr Steve Jones – On how experiences of employer interaction can aid young people in their future labour market entry which, considering the very clear requirements in last weeks Guidance on schools to secure employer interaction for their pupils, is now central to Careers policy for young people in the UK. The quoted feedbacks from students are very interesting especially when comparing the school types they originate from.

 

All worth watching and all will help me place the decisions I make on the provisions I try to secure for students and the value those provisions should hold in the wider context of the increasingly challenging school to work obstacle course.

CEIAG isn’t about letting the big business wolf through the door

 

I’m not a teacher so I’m not a member of a teaching (or any) Union so usually, while I’m aware of their valuable point of view on the UK education landscape, even their strikes haven’t affected me. The recent NUT action didn’t shut my school and, now that we’re in our 4th year of the Coalition Government, some members are becoming increasingly mystified about the direction of protest of their Union but mainly they don’t seem to have taken an interest in CEIAG in schools. That is until I saw some quotes from their Head of Education, Ros McNeil in this piece about Businesses running Careers workshops caught my eye.

The BAE scheme mentioned is a fantastic example of similar schemes run by companies for schools all over the country with the key elements of direct engagement with the employees, an introduction to jobs and areas of work perhaps the youngsters had very little realistic knowledge of and clear links to the lessons and curriculum they are studying to show the value of what they are learning.

The article itself can’t help but build a black and white picture that companies are suddenly filling the vacuum left by the loss of Connexions to suddenly get into schools to run workshops (many have been for years and continue to do so where the regional versions of Connexions are struggling on) and that, like Michael Gove’s simplistic take on the value of Careers workers, this has to be a ‘either or’ situation. Ms McNeil’s first point is a practical one on this theme that schools do need to consider:

“Schools just receive too much information from myriad companies and I think heads are feeling overwhelmed. It is almost impossible to navigate what is good for a school,” she says.

but one to which I’m duty bound to offer a solution.

Though it’s her second contribution that I’m concerned with:

McNeil would like to see a greater public debate about the role of companies in schools. The NUT sees employers “as key partners of schools”, McNeil says, but would have concerns if they were drawing up lesson materials. “If companies are producing curriculum resources and getting access to schools to have their brand known by schoolchildren and to be able to bring that angle in, I think we would have significant concerns about that.”

This concern about the ulterior motives of companies to spread their brand recognition has good intentions but is surely misguided. To begin with it shows a distinct lack of understanding of what is already happening in schools as lesson materials are already produced by companies and used by teachers and, in specialised cases like Studio Schools, the teachers are working with companies to design large parts of the curriculum but, centrally, it is the desire to protect children from the preying vultures of corporations that misses the point of CEIAG work by a country mile.

As much as you might want them to, schools don’t exist in sealable bubbles.

They deal with young minds who come from their environments and at the end of each day, send them back out into that society. Each and every lesson, teachers deal with young people that piggyback into the classroom the positives and negatives of their outside world experience be they the overseeing eyes of interested parents, the legacies of Snapchat bullying or the after effects of the energy drink they necked on the walk in. Any teacher that has seen the emotional crater left when confiscating an iPhone or some Beats headphones will know that brands and corporate messages are another important strand of these wider influences. Yet it is also naive to treat young people as merely consumers in training as there are popular cultural messages highly valued by them which have anti corporate messages or values.

The corporate world is the world they already inhabit, are already making decisions about and will have to work in throughout their lives. Surely one of the benefits of CEIAG is that by utilising companies in Career learning in schools we are taking control of how young people begin to learn and understand about the companies behind those brands and the difference between marketing and reality. We can have a say over how some of those early interactions take place and where the value of them is focused. CEIAG offers us the chance to fulfill exactly the regulatory role Ms McNeil wants. It is about young people learning how to take control of their own futures and not be purely powerless end users at the ebb and flow of the needs of business and the labour market. It offers them the chance to see the strings behind the puppet and become all the more powerful as a result. As Neil Carberry of the CBI puts it, “”Business and education are looking for the same thing: a young person who can navigate their way in the 21st century.” CEIAG is the map and compass we can give them.