Last month, Jackie Galbraith from Ayrshire College provided us with an overview of some of their award winning approaches to employer engagement. This month Ayrshire College return once again to provide some fantastic tips on how you and your institution can improve the way you engage with employers and work towards closing the ever increasing skills gap that exits in vocational education:

1. Make sure employers know about you.

Communicate positive stories regularly and extensively about the benefits to employers of your engagement with them. Exploit a wide range of social media platforms and issue news stories regularly to local newspapers, business magazines and trade newsletters. Feature examples of your work with employers on your own and other’s blogs.

2. Go to employers – don’t wait for them to come to you.

Time is precious for employers, especially small businesses, so respect any demands on their time. Invest time in meeting them at their premises. When inviting them to events at the college, arrange these at times best suited to them, e.g. early morning or at the end of the day.

3. Speak in a language employers understand.

Most employers’ knowledge of education and qualifications is limited to what they experienced at school, college or university. Take care not to talk in jargon they don’t understand – focus on the skills they are looking for.

4. Demonstrate what’s in it for employers.

Many employers understand what they can gain from engaging with the college. However, some don’t. Show them the benefits of working with you in terms they can relate to, e.g. achieving a more skilled and motivated workforce, increased productivity, help with recruiting the right people etc.

5. Be clear about what you are asking employers for.

Most employers want to engage with education, often in an altruistic way to help students be more employable in a challenging labour market. Specify how they can help, e.g. by offering work placements, taking on an apprentice, inviting students to a site visit, delivering guest lectures.

6. Embrace criticisms and listen to feedback.

If employers are critical of the content, delivery or relevance of college courses, don’t respond in a defensive way. Talk through their concerns and, where there are issues, discuss how to improve these. 

Show employers what you have changed in response to their feedback, eg course provision, content, delivery model. If they see clear evidence of their feedback being acted on they will continue to engage with you. If they don’t, they may view your employer engagement as unproductive with no tangible benefit to them.

7. Be honest and realistic about what you can deliver.

Employers are business people and work daily with economic and operational constraints. If you are honest and explain any constraints they will understand. Try to help the employer find what they are looking for, even if it isn’t delivered by you. They will appreciate this support and are more likely to come back to you in the future for something you can deliver.

8. Invest time in nurturing and maintaining relationships with employers.

Be prepared to go ‘above and beyond’ when building new relationships. You may have to invest large amounts of time in order to achieve small gains, but these small gains may have a large benefit for employers, especially small businesses, and could significantly enhance your reputation.

9. Engage in business, trade and industry organisations.

Join local chambers of commerce, industry sector bodies and trade associations, and contribute generously in terms of time, ideas and expertise. You will gain access to networks and specialist knowledge which will enhance your understanding of employers’ skills requirements.

10. Keep up to date with industry developments.

Make sure you are aware of the latest reports, policy developments and news in the industry sectors and show employers how the college is responding to any relevant recommendations.