Benchmark 5

Encounters with employers and employees

Every pupil should have multiple opportunities to learn from employers about work, employment and the skills that are valued in the workplace. This can be through a range of enrichment activities including visiting speakers, mentoring and enterprise schemes.

  • Every year, from the age of 11, pupils should participate in at least one meaningful encounter* with an employer.

* A ‘meaningful’ encounter is one in which the student has an opportunity to learn about what work is like or what it takes to be successful in the workplace.

Image: Good career guidance

A careers fair at Park view School

Stories from the North East

Successes and challenges

To ensure they met Benchmark 5 many schools and colleges in the pilot had to bolster their existing relationships with employers. Many started from the point of already having a regular careers fair or talks with employers, so their challenges revolved around ensuring high quality and comprehensive pupil engagement. They began by enhancing their existing events to reach students in all year groups. They also looked at ways to personalise employer interactions so that students found these discussions relevant for their future and not just generic careers advice. The schools who really embraced the Benchmark created innovative opportunities for students to meet local employers.One school organised for employers to judge an “Apprentice-style” event in which students had to pitch their business ideas. This scheme had an amazing impact on some students. One parent of a Y10 girl from a pilot school, said “My daughter won this [Dragons' Den] for nail art. She borrowed money from school to set up and pays it back by charging at school fun days. She has paid all of this back, is still doing this and making money. She wants to do this as a job.”

Those looking to enhance an existing careers fair started by tackling the major problem of attendance from both employers and students. Schools contacted employers by mining alumni, parents and contacts from teachers across the school. They also worked with organisations such as The Careers and Enterprise company to help locate employers through their Enterprise Advisor scheme. Some schools wanted to put on sector specific events. To make this worthwhile they teamed up with other local schools ensuring a good turnout of pupils and employers. Looking for who you can collaborate with is key to enhancing a career fair.

The most successful careers fairs also got smart about ensuring parent attendance. The King Edward VI School engaged parents right from the very beginning, opening up the careers fair to them as well as to students. The school sent text messages and Tweets to parents reminding them of the event right up until the day. They also updated them when new employers were added, so they felt involved in the event all the way along.

Bishop Auckland College

Smaller scale events can also work well. Castle View Enterprise Academy organised “Business Breakfasts” where two employers came in and spoke to students over breakfast. Prior to starting this programme the careers team surveyed students to see which employers they’d be interested in hearing from, they then matched these responses with the employers invited and made sure students were sent personal invitations to events that would interest them. Employers who attended have included Nike, Gentoo, Pets as Therapy, Northumbrian Water and the Army. These smaller events helped gauge student interest, feeding back information that then focused future activity. For example, after a visit from a scientist from Sunderland University, female students who were particularly interested were invited to the university to take part in a science taster day designed specifically for girls.

Many employers run short-term programmes for students aimed at teaching them about a specific industry. Nissan ran a Cadet programme with Excelsior Academy and St. Joseph's Catholic Academy aimed at students who might be looking for apprenticeships in the future. The programme ran over 5 days during term-time, which initially seemed like a large amount of time away from lessons. To help gain buy-in from staff and pupils Excelsior had representatives from Nissan come into the school and give a presentation about the programme and the work students would be doing. At St Joseph’s, Nissan began by running evening workshops, the most engaged students were then chosen to take part in the full programme.

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Our top tips

  • Deon Krishnan, Careers Leader at Excelsior Academy
    “Tap into your networks and try to expand them to find employer contacts. The cadet programmes at Nissan came from alumni and family contacts who helped build the relationship."
  • Sarah Rice, Careers Leader at Kenton School
    “To make sure these encounters with employers are memorable it can be useful to poll pupils to identify areas of interest and where any gaps in knowledge might lie. At our school the careers advisor found that there was a great deal of interest from pupils in midwifery so they arranged for current medical students and a midwife to visit the school. To ensure the most was made of this visit pupils were asked to prepare questions in advance and to analyse what they had learned after. Evaluation of impact is key”
  • Christine Jones, Career Leader at St Joseph’s Catholic Academy
    “Overbook a careers fair with more employers than you’ll think you need as this allows for any dropouts and cancellations. Always have a back up plan so that students are not missing out."

Overbook a careers fair with more employers than you’ll think you need as this allows for any dropouts

Christine Jones, Career Leader at St Joseph’s Catholic Academy