Tameside College, based in Greater Manchester, use a range of employer engagement strategies to engage with local businesses, often in the context of high unemployment and geographical disadvantage. Here are some of the ways that they work to break down these barriers and some top tips for those who wish to do the same.
The College offers full time provision for young people aged 16 – 18 who require a mandatory work experience element. Certain courses stipulate a minimum amount of work experience hours to meet the assessment requirements. There are a number of staff deployed to co-ordinate and manage work experience, including a work experience manager who oversees the majority of activities in the college for this age group. This function provides a level of standardised practice across the organisation and a central point of communication for employers and internal staff.
The college has substantial provision for apprenticeships where the approach to employer engagement needs to consider a variety of external factors such as the competitive market place, local priorities and the funding available to employers.
We have found that there is a willingness from employers to support the training and development of young people, however there are some barriers to engaging with the activity. Employers can receive a considerable number of requests to engage with providers, and they require guidance to identify what they are able to offer. It is necessary to provide this support to ensure that employer’s time is efficiently used. This is helped by maintaining clear communications with the employers to manage expectations. It is essential to prepare well for placements to avoid poor experiences for employers, from ill prepared candidates to a lack of support in preparing and monitoring placements.
With new employers, we have approached engagement by offering a menu of options to support participation: providing guest speakers, hosting visits, attending events, offering work placement or employing apprentices. Our employer engagement staff are customer focused and meet with employers to identify their workforce training needs, highlighting the benefits of developing the workforce, referencing improved productivity, staff retention, reducing staff absence and improving their public profile in the local community.
There are potential financial benefits to this, such as grants for apprenticeship vacancies and the local authority grants to support new vacancies or equipment costs. By providing a range of engagement options, the support to develop businesses and a flexible approach to fit in with business demands, we maximise the opportunities to work with employers.
The staff who are involved in employer engagement have clear objectives that underpin their roles. They provide one point of contact for employers, providers and candidates acting as ambassadors to promote the benefits of engaging. The team sources new business to increase the number of employers engaged and provide support to ease processes, save time and advise on good practice.
There is clearly enthusiasm from employers in the sector to participate and support training, but they require support throughout to ensure the placements are purposeful, relevant and beneficial to the learners.