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Higher education engagement with employers: What works in practice? Helen Connor and Wendy Hirsh. NICEC Seminar, November 2009 Research team: Richard Bolden, Helen Connor, Anthea Duquemin, Wendy Hirsh, Georgy Petrov. Policy over the last decade…. Employability and Enterprise

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higher education engagement with employers what works in practice helen connor and wendy hirsh

Higher education engagement with employers: What works in practice?Helen Connor and Wendy Hirsh

NICEC Seminar, November 2009

Research team: Richard Bolden, Helen Connor, Anthea Duquemin, Wendy Hirsh, Georgy Petrov

policy over the last decade
Policy over the last decade….
  • Employability and Enterprise
  • Widening participation
  • Foundation degrees
  • Lifelong Learning Networks
  • Lambert and Leitch Reviews
  • HEFCE Employer Engagement - workforce development, co-funding (ASNs), regional Higher Skills Pathfinders
  • EQL
  • Other – eg SSCs, RDAs, KTPd, NSAs, etc
study of specific examples of employer he involvement
Study of specific examples of employer-HE involvement
  • 27 examples examined
  • Interviews of those involved, often at both HE & employer ends of the relationship
  • CIHE examples mostly found through employer contacts – national spread, very varied types of involvement
  • Higher Skills cases – South West & via Higher Skills project – regional, focus more on FDs and WFD
  • Higher Skills – creative/ cultural; engineering, business improvement (leadership and management)
  • CIHE – construction & engineering; financial/business services; IT; creative/media
  • More recently 10 case studies of institutional strategy
diverse examples of engagement
Diverse examples of engagement
  • Foundation degree for an IT employer, individuals recruited specially, two years part-time study, HEI local to workplace
  • Using existing Masters degrees in IT for employees with campus-based work location rented by company
  • Small design firm working with local college via validation board
  • Long term strategic partnership in aerospace
  • Civil engineering industry-led work experience for u/g’s
examples contd
Examples contd
  • Modules for specialist financial professionals delivered across faculties, later accredited
  • Improving written English of engineers in workplace
  • Range of foundation degrees for transport employer with four HEIs
  • Training courses for public service staff in Islamic culture
  • Distance learning on business enterprise for small businesses in tourist area
types of engagement influencing teaching learning
Types of engagement influencing teaching & learning
  • Workforce development for people already in employment, including both ‘reskilling’ and ‘upskilling’
    • Standard or bespoke courses
    • Existing or development of new programmes (eg FDs)
    • Accredited or not
    • At very wide range of levels of expertise
  • Accrediting existing workforce development
  • Employers supporting student ‘employability’
    • Direct inputs to teaching or materials
    • Careers work, often linked with recruitment activity
    • Work experiences/ work placements
  • Involvement of employers in curriculum development, often linked with wider engagement eg via research
who works with whom mapping the links

6. MediatedRelationships established and/or maintained by intermediary/broker

HE Institutions

2. HE Network/ PartnershipTwo or more HEIs - Single employer

4. HE-Employer ConsortiumTwo or more HEIs – Two or more employers

5. Sub-contractedProvider network managed through lead HEI


1. DirectSingle HEI - Single employer

3. Employer GroupSingle HEI – Two or more employers

Other organisations





Who works with whom? Mapping the links
what helps or hinders effective engagement

1. Strategic fit

Defining and focussing engagement

2.Finding partners


Learning package

4. Developing, sustaining & leading the partnership



Supporting engagement


Culture & systems

What helps or hinders effective engagement?

1. Strategic fit for the HEI and its partners


a) Alignment with institutional strengths and strategic direction

b) A fit in terms of values, ethos and ways or working

c) A real business need

d) HE best placed as the learning provider

e) Benefits which the intended learners will easily recognise

2. Finding partners and establishing the relationship

a) Clarity of contact points in HEI

b) Driving interest for the engagement

c) Joint exploration of what is needed

d) Building trust

e) Partnerships must be manageable

7. Funding and investment

a) Recognising the real cost of employer engagement

b) Public funding for development

c) Assessing sustainability and financial risk

6. Culture and systems supportive of collaboration

a) Flexible approach to purpose of HE

b) Bridging cultures

c) Time and incentives for engagement built into academic role

d) Financial and administrative flexibility

4. Developing, sustaining and leading

the partnership

a) An academic with passion for the work

b) Collaborative approach

c) Role clarity

d) Ensure buy-in

e) Build in continuity

f) Support at senior levels

g) Need for ongoing leadership

h) Recognise complex leadership needs

5. Staff resourcing and capability

a) Subject knowledge

b) Teaching delivery expertise

c) Customer focus and service orientation

d) Resourcing employer engagement in HE

3. Designing and delivering an appropriate learning package


a) Creative adaptation of existing HE offerings

b) Employers can offer complementary learning experiences

c) Effective development of new or bespoke courses

d) Accreditation where appropriate

e) A learning design suitable for the target group of learners

Facilitators and barriers to effective HE-employer engagement


framing employer engagement as part of institutional strategy
Framing employer engagement as part of institutional strategy
  • Institutions on their own evolving journeys
  • Employer engagement part of core teaching and research missions not ‘third leg’
  • Needs to meet real needs of both employers & learners: Not ‘selling’ what HEIs think employers should buy
  • Varied views on desired volume of WFD & importance/ attraction of accrediting workplace learning as distinctive HE offer
  • Capacity and interest to work with employers? How big a culture shift in HE? Existing staff or new resources, including partners?
  • Enabling infrastructure eg marketing, data & finance systems
  • Does the finance of WFD or new programmes make sense? Especially once the pump-priming has gone.
implications for careers work in he
Implications for careers work in HE
  • Centrality of employability skills (teamwork, communication etc.) and increasing commitment to work experience
  • Articulation of career skills less clear, as is method of delivery of career learning
  • In some HEIs much increased general contact with employers
  • Engagement activity often devolved but with central facilitation
  • Careers services can be central to this and be one key gateway for employers to enter institution for work placements, teaching input, recruitment or even research collaboration
  • Other careers services can become marginalised by business development/ enterprise/CPD units as main door for employers
  • Broader skill set for careers people in HE, especially in promoting all aspects of the institution to employers and in complex partnership ventures eg with private sector training providers
  • Who gives careers advice to employees coming into HE?

Influence through Collaboration project at CIHE

Influence through Collaboration – Main report, Summary report and case study library. Helen Connor and Wendy Hirsh, CIHE http://www.cihe-uk.com

Higher skills project at HERDA South West

Employer Engagement with Higher Education: Defining, Sustaining and Supporting Higher Skills Provision

Employer Engagement with Higher Education: A Literature Review (full and summary)


Research led by Richard Bolden at Centre for Leadership Studies, University of Exeter

Email: Richard.Bolden@exeter.ac.uk, Website: ttp://www.exeter.ac.uk/leadership

Wendy Hirsh can be contacted at wh@ringmer.demon.co.uk, Helen Connor at connorhi@btinternet.com