Co-Chair of the Student<>Employer Network Christine Kinnear and Chair of the Teach First Careers Network Michael Britland
Christine Kinnear and Michael Britland
Co-chair of the Student<>Employer Network and Chair of the TF Careers Network

Schools and businesses need to work together better—here’s how

When it comes to fostering support from businesses to schools, there's a lot of untapped potential. Here, two Teach First supported networks share their expertise on how to make the most of these relationships and create opportunities for pupils who need it most.

The TF Careers Network is run by careers educators for careers educators with the aim of providing supporting to those working in Careers education at all stages of education from Primary through to University. Support is multi-channel in nature, covering the network’s website, social media and external events.

The Student<>Employer Network is a chance for schools, young people and employers to work together and increase quality outreach opportunities.

Schools and businesses need to be better engaged with each other. The scale of inequality that faces our society has only been exacerbated by COVID-19. For young people, this has brought huge disruption to critical, formative years, and in many cases, major challenges to their hopes and aspirations. The pandemic cut a lot of connections between schools and businesses and many of these have yet to reform.

The eagerness and urgency to do so is felt by both schools and businesses. Two Teach First supported networks, the TF Careers Network and the Student<>Employer Network, give their take on this, and consider how to tackle this given how much has changed  in the past two years.

The role businesses play in supporting schools

Christine Kinnear - Co-chair of the Student<>Employer Network

Businesses are keener than ever to engage with young people during their time in school and college. Despite this, there is still a significant gap between the quality of offers being made to them.

As an ambassador (Teach First’s 17-18 Innovation Series) and founder of With Insight Education, I know that many businesses want to connect with students to give something back and build their future talent pipelines, but they don’t always know where to start. Our organisations have come together to provide practical support. We have pooled our knowledge, learnings, and ideas to help businesses recruit more diverse talent and connect young people to the world of work.

The Student<>Employer Network released a landmark report titled Connecting employers to students: a practical guide for engaging young people in the world of work. In it, school and business leaders provide expert recommendations on how to maximise school-business relationships for the benefit of pupils.

The recommendations for businesses in the report include the following:

  • Put Diversity and Inclusion at the heart of programme delivery: Broad-brush diversity initiatives often fail. Organisations that embed diversity and inclusion successfully in their programmes are insight led, have examined their own diversity and inclusion data, acknowledged and addressed existing diversity gaps and ensure D&I is at the heart of their mission – with KPIs to make them accountable.
  • Invest in soft skills: Employers say soft skills are as important as academic qualifications but graduates often lack them. Solutions include businesses collaborating with schools, charities or social enterprises to run programmes to help students develop soft skills before starting work. Reverse mentoring programmes between students and colleagues can also help here.
  • Assume you will always pay young people: Unpaid work opportunities can exclude young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. To address this, companies could offer paid part-time work for young people to broaden the opportunities open to them. Employers should assume they will pay young people for any work, rather than asking them to volunteer.
  • Widen the talent pool: A report from the Social Mobility Commission highlights that some industries focus on a small number of elite institutions for recruitment and fail to recruit talented young people from less advantaged backgrounds, and such barriers needs to be recognised to generate change.
  • Understand student voices: To recruit more diverse young talent, businesses should consult with young people. It’s also important for businesses to give them a voice in their companies and provide more opportunities to increase their contribution and participation.
  • Increase workplace encounters with students: Students often do not have enough meaningful encounters with employers. Equally, employers are often unaware of how to connect with students during the school day (usually during curriculum or pillar days). Solutions include companies creating pupil friendly sessions for school curriculum days, offering workplace encounters to all year groups and developing contacts with career leads in schools.
  • How to offer meaningful experiences of the workplace: Work experience placements sometimes do not always provide a realistic picture of day to day working life. Consequently, pupils may not have all the information to make an informed decision about. Every pupil and school are different, so any opportunities must be tailored to them.
  • How to partner with state schools: One of the best ways to work with more state schools is to seek recommendations from existing state  schools you have worked with. Headteachers tend to be very well networked and have built great relationships with their counterparts at other schools in their vicinity but also across the city and beyond. Some schools are part of Multi Academy Trusts (groups of schools) and so headteachers may even have an incentive to scale your work together to the other schools in their Trust, both in their local city but also potentially across the UK, which is an exciting opportunity. Another approach you can use is asking the headteacher you have worked with whether you can speak at their next Multi Academy Trust careers meeting, or headteacher meeting, to present your work to their schools and demonstrate the impact this work has had on the school and pupils.
  • Designing sustainable and impactful school outreach programmes: There are many barriers to designing a sustainable and impactful school outreach programme, including lack of knowledge, other business priorities and employees at a company not reflecting the demographic of students in state schools. Recommendations include being open about the desired outcomes from the start, co-creating the programme with diversity networks and other departments in the business, and adding school outreach into someone’s job description or a committee.
  • Having a holistic organisational approach when running school outreach: If initiatives aren’t connected to a company’s wider business strategy, then it can limit their overall impact. Gaining senior buy-in for school outreach work is important to ensure this type of work gets sufficient support in an organisation, as are stakeholder meetings with different departments and external partners.

How schools can foster these connections to improve outcomes for their students

Michael Britland - Chair of the TF Careers Network

One of the hardest aspects of being a Careers Leader was finding ways to engage with the business community. Identifying businesses to work with was the initial challenge but then finding ways in which to approach them was the next hurdle to overcome. Make no mistake about it in these post-COVID times ensuring that schools and businesses engage with each other seems more important now than ever before. However, there remains a gap in making this process easier for schools and businesses. When writing for the TF Careers Network I commented, that “there is often a huge gap between what schools think employers want and what employers think schools can provide or how they operate”. Finding a way to bridge this gap is where more work needs to be done.

Ensuring young people have the clearest idea of what employment opportunities are available on their doorstep is an essential aspect of effective careers provision. Due to obvious time constrictions and capacity issues, it’s easy for schools to slip into a scattergun approach when identifying which businesses, they can and want to work with. However, taking the time to understand the core business sectors in your area can pay dividends in the long run.

Start big: identifying your local employment sectors
  • If schools sat and thought about which local businesses your school could engage with, you may produce a narrow group. This is simply because not all of us have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the myriad employers that sit in your local community. As such, to provide your young people with a fuller range you need to dig a little deeper. There are several places that are good to go to for this information: your local Chamber of Commerce, for instance. Another excellent place is your Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).
Drilling down: what sectors and businesses to work with 
  • Once you have investigated what your local sectors are, be they established, growing or ones that need more support, you can then start to work on the next focus - forming partnerships. This approach does require some considerable time investment, but the payoff can be significant.
Making the connection: where the partnership starts
  • Once you have identified which business you want to work with, you now need to form the partnership. Each large organisation will have someone who is responsible for corporate social outreach; going old school and making some calls to find out who this is, is the best approach here (you can try having a good nose around the website, but often they just provide generic information about the company). It is also essential that you approach the business with the specific support that you require – knowing what you want and presenting this is better than an open invitation.

Don't forget this is a two-way street, you should be telling them what benefits could come their way as well. Telling them that their company name or logo will feature on schools’ letterhead, website, and other prominent places. Businesses might not always be able to support your work but by having these partnerships in place, you are making a direct and consistent link to Career and LMI for young people and parents.

Next Steps

We hope that you found the information above useful, and that it will bring you closer to fostering effective relationships between your schools and businesses. For further guidance, please see below:

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