Best Practice

Five steps for connecting students to the world of work

Schools often work closely with local industry in order to bring their curriculum to life for students – but what makes these partnerships a success? Neil Willis offers five steps…
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Setting students up for success in the workplace is a key ambition for most people working in education.

We are all aspiring to bring what students learn in class to life, to connect subjects to the labour market, and to build relationships with local industries to inspire students.

Together with the North of Tyne Combined Authority, the North East Local Enterprise Partnership has been working to connect local businesses and industries with schools and classrooms across the region.

Across 10 schools in the North East, partnerships created so far have enabled 1,500 students to explore the real world use of different aspects of the science curriculum. In one school, year 8 students explored the applications of electromagnets. One group worked with a company called Komatsu looking at the use of electromagnets in relays in the circuits of their industrial machinery; another learned how electromagnets are used in sound systems.

The students involved reported that they feel more engaged in their learning when they understand the relevance of what they are studying in the curriculum to their own and other people’s lives.

The teachers involved also felt more confident to speak to their students about the local labour market.

And the businesses involved have continued developing their partnerships with schools and some have incorporated the engagement into their volunteering programmes.

Research presented at the SSAT National Conference in 2015 shows that students are 18 times more likely to be motivated to learn if their teachers know their hopes and dreams (SSAT, 2015). So giving them access to real world careers could help to inspire those dreams and kick-start open conversations.

So, how can you get started on building sustainable and meaningful partnerships with local industries? We have published some of our lessons learned in a new resource for schools – Curriculum Led Employer Engagement Toolkit (see further information). Here are five key steps to consider.


1, Identify curriculum content and intended student outcomes

The first step, from a teaching perspective, is to identify areas of the curriculum that you can develop and enhance by engaging with industry. There may be different factors to consider:

  • Curriculum content that naturally links to the labour market – for example, renewable energy resources such as in our Highfield Middle School case study (see further information).
  • Aspects of learning that students find harder to engage with or which are more abstract.
  • Elements that teachers may feel less confident in delivering.
  • Improving student outcomes, engagement in learning, and interpersonal skills, as well as addressing stereotypes.

Once you have identified the curriculum focus, it is time to write a brief for a potential partner organisation or business. The brief should include a summary of logistical information that can be useful for potential partners, such as student cohort information (age, year group, ability), and activity information (timeframe of delivery, type of delivery), and it should be accessible so that someone without a background in education can understand and see where they can offer value. We have produced a template capturing these elements (see further information).


2, Identify potential partners

This is where your networks can help. There are a range of organisations that facilitate employer-education partnerships.

Nationally, these include Careers Hub, the STEM Ambassador Network, and Inspiring the Future.

Regionally, other organisations will exist – your local Careers Hub will be able to support you in finding these. Schools can also use their own networks, community, parents, and governors to explore partnership opportunities.

Great examples of partnerships we have seen include one school that partnered with Kromek to explore the practical applications of radioactivity, and another school who worked with the NHS, GE Healthcare, and the Northumberland Wildlife Trust to understand the practical applications of sound waves.


3, Co-develop delivery

It is important to consider how all stakeholders can benefit from the partnership – focusing on students, teachers, the school, and the businesses or industries you are working with.

Businesses will benefit from these partnerships too, through opportunities to engage with potential future employees, upskilling their own staff, highlighting the skills needed to be a successful employee, and understanding student perspectives and ideas.

Make sure you work together to plan and confirm the logistics around delivering your activity. Ensure that a plan for communication across the planning process and activity delivery is agreed and the required resources are planned ahead of time.


4, Learning activity

The activity should be developed to meet the needs of your students, and designed to ensure that they achieve the outcomes agreed. It is important to make sure that the activity is appropriate for all learners, and will enable them to access content, make progress in learning, and have a great learning experience.

The activity itself can vary depending on who you are working with, the size of your class, and ease of access. We’ve seen examples of virtual sessions, practical sessions, challenges co-developed and set by the employer, and workplace visits. All of these can give students an exciting opportunity to learn more about what happens in their local area.

This learning activity should be embedded into your “normal” curriculum delivery and time. This allows the teaching and learning to come directly through the lens of an industry application.


5, Reviewing and sustaining

It is vital that the outcomes for all stakeholders should be measurable. When planning, it is important to figure out how progress, outcomes and impact will be measured.

A simple survey following the activity is a good way to capture important feedback from students, teachers, and employers. This feedback will help build an evidence-base for future versions of the project, will help to you to make adjustments, and will allow you to share learning or testimony with colleagues.

It is also a good idea to schedule a review meeting with your partner organisation/s quickly to avoid the likelihood of other priorities taking over.

You can also use your experience of working with industry to upskill other colleagues through CPD – helping other departments to embark on their own partnerships.


Principles for success

Alongside these steps, it is important to think about these simple principles for success:

  • Communication: Staff in both education and business are busy. Agreeing the best method and times for communication is key. In our experience, the main reason for an unsuccessful partnership lies in poor communication.
  • Looking ahead: Although sometimes partnerships can be quickly established, we recommend a four to six-week lead time to any engagement with pupils. Often there are processes that take longer than expected, for example, risk assessments, resource purchases and organising transport.
  • Expectations: Working with an external organisation can be a new experience and may bring challenges. It is always good to prepare for a “what if” situation – sometimes unavoidable disruptions happen.


Final thoughts

While it will involve an outlay in time and energy, building successful relationships with businesses and industries can lead to outstanding curriculum-led employer partnerships and contribute to the wider careers programme in school. Ultimately, they have the potential to transform students’ engagement, outcomes, and aspirations.

  • Neil Willis is regional lead: education challenge at North East Local Enterprise Partnership. a public, private and education sector partnership, responsible for promoting and developing economic growth in the local authority areas of County Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle, North Tyneside, Northumberland, South Tyneside, and Sunderland.


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