Back to school
By Jackie Grisdale
As the summer holidays draw to a close, let’s turn our attention to the role that schools, colleges and universities play in influencing career decisions. Let’s be honest, it is a pretty big role. I think we all agree engaging with this group of influencers is a vital part of any early careers strategy.
Possibly giving the first real experience of a subject area, for some, an inspirational subject teacher or academic can not only inform and educate, they can ignite an interest which can propel a student along a particular career path. A recent report from AllAboutSchoolLeavers confirms the role of teachers as influencers, stating teachers are second only to parents when it comes to helping young people make their career decisions, with a quarter getting careers related questions every day. But sadly, 80% of them admitted that they wish they knew more about the options for their students.
So, an important influencer group.
But there is an interesting story when looking at trust. Parents and teachers are amongst the most trusted sources of information for 16-18 year old's according to Kids Insight, as we’d expect. However, interestingly, girls place slightly less trust in their teachers than boys, and for both genders trust in teachers peaks at ages 13-15, before trust begins declining after age 16.
For many others, where teachers haven’t been the source of inspiration, good quality careers information, advice and guidance is needed. Sadly, the quality and availability of this varies significantly across the education system - structured departments and teams in universities, with a somewhat less structured approach in schools. Where dedicated careers staff or teams exist, many are very good and as a result can have a big influence. And students do make the most of their careers services in university. High Fliers reported that 97% of students used their local careers service whilst at university – that’s the highest level ever recorded.
At the school and college level, careers advisers and teachers can have a real influence on the level of access to information a student has about post-18 options. But there is still a way to go when it comes to apprenticeship options. Shockingly, some recent research detailed that nearly half of those asked said they didn't receive any information from their school about apprenticeships as a potential route over university. The Baker clause which requires schools to provide students with access to all types of post-16 and post-18 pathways is one important step forward on this front.
While knowing everything about all roles and opportunities on offer for students is an unrealistic expectation for teachers and careers advisors, access to quality information and possessing a range of contacts in industry means they can at the very least feel confident in supporting students to navigate their career journey by signposting. And here is an opportunity for employers when considering influencing this particular group. Not only can they position themselves as supportive in the minds of academic and careers staff through developing robust relationships with institutions, they can in return get an opportunity to open the eyes of students to insights and experiences of the workplace, potentially sparking an interest that will result in a future recruit for the business.
Therefore, the role of careers advisors and academic/teaching staff in your early careers strategy needs careful consideration. After over a decade of working with them, here are my top five tips when thinking about this key influencer group.
Consider your strategic approach – it sounds obvious, but consider carefully which approach is best for you when it comes to engaging with schools, colleges and universities. Is this something you will lead and manage in-house or is it best delivered through a third party or partner organisation or a wider industry led initiative? Each approach has its benefits and drawbacks, so clarity around your objectives and aligning your approach is absolutely essential.
Think about who you target – identifying the right target institutions and stakeholders to engage with is vital. Universities can present a complex network of careers, employability and academic teams, with many having employer engagement teams to help. When it comes to schools, it is a different ball game, often with limited dedicated careers staff and very busy teachers. It can be incredibly difficult to identify the careers leader or right teacher, not to mention managing to get through to them once you know who they are. So, gather data and insight and match it to your objectives to identify target institutions. Then do your research to understand the approach to careers education and academic delivery and identify the best approach to establishing a connection with the right influencers.
Understand your value proposition – academic and careers teams want the best for the students and they have their own objectives. Consider carefully their needs, how you can contribute to meeting those. Use this to develop an appropriate and clear value proposition for this influencer group that connects the two. Link your offer to the Gatsby Benchmarks or careers and employability strategies for careers teams, or to curriculum/syllabus for teaching and academic staff.
Build a sustainable relationship – while you may have an immediate hiring demand you want to fill, don’t forget the long term. Otherwise you risk the relationship being transactional and lacking the depth and quality that will pay dividends over the long term. Once connected with the influencer in your target institution, take the time to really understand their challenges and what support they already have. Use this to understand how your proposition can add value to them, perhaps by plugging gaps in activity, bringing curriculum learning to life, giving insight to the industry or providing expertise from the business. And make sure you revisit the relationship regularly. If approached in the right way you can build a strong network of influencers who are advocates for the business.
Be considerate – engaging with teachers, academics and careers staff isn’t always easy. They are busy and students are priority, so think about your influencers preferred channel of engagement, the timing of your outreach and how you can get your message across in the most efficient and effective way. This goes for the support you offer too. When is the best time for your influencer or student population - does what you are offering really fit in with the academic calendar and their needs, or is it just to help you manage your internal resource?
That concludes our snapshot on the role of schools, colleges and universities as an influencer group. Next up we will be taking a look at the role of friends, peers and social media (with their growing population of influencers) before we finish our influencer series with a look at the top influencer group - parents.
If you would like strategic level support on working with schools, colleges and universities to meet the future talent needs of your business, get in touch to see how we can help.