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Blog post

Employer engagement with schools in Wales

Chloe Reid, PhD candidate, Cardiff University

Many young people leaving school will at some point enter employment. It is, therefore, important to examine how employers engage with the future workforce within secondary schools. Businesses may work with schools through a variety of ways, including, but not limited to, careers fairs, work experience placements, mock interviews and workplace visits.

Employer engagement (EE) is often viewed as contributing to careers education, but it can also contribute to teacher professional development, curriculum design and school governance. In this blog I outline the policy history of employer engagement in Wales and then examine current practice.

The Newsom report (CACE, 1963, p.47) proposed that older school pupils would benefit from working with professionals ‘with particular talents and experience – nurses, social workers, people from commerce and from industry’. This report was also the first to discuss work experience placements. However, it was not until the 1970s that work experience was formally established with the Education (Work Experience Act) 1973.

The 1980s brought further changes with the technical and vocational education initiative (TVEI). This provided funding to help schools foster links with employers and develop young people’s understanding of the world of work. Then, in the early 2000s, the Welsh Government launched the ‘Youth enterprise and entrepreneurship strategy for Wales’ (Welsh Government, 2003). Primary, secondary and special schools were encouraged to develop strategies for promoting enterprise skills. This was regarded as important by the Welsh Government in encouraging innovation and increasing business competitiveness.

Today, the ‘Careers and the world of work’ framework forms part of the Welsh school curriculum for 11-to-19-year-olds (Welsh Government, 2008). This framework provides case studies of schools with different practices and outlines the attitudes and values required for young people’s employability. Building on this, the forthcoming new curriculum in Wales places great importance on collaborating with employers and learning about work-related experiences through every subject.

Furthermore, the Gatsby Benchmarks [https://www.gatsby.org.uk/education/focus-areas/good-career-guidance] (an initiative that hopes to improve careers guidance practice) is currently being piloted in schools in Rhondda Cynon Taf. Schools also benefit from the support of ‘business engagement advisors’ [https://www.careerswales.com/en/professionals/employer-support-for-schools/] in Careers Wales, who are individuals employed to assist links between employers and education.

In 2017, Estyn’s report provides a picture of EE in Wales by drawing upon research from secondary schools across the country. This suggests that the proportion of young people undertaking work experience has declined substantially over the past five years. In addition, only a minority participate in careers fairs or meet external speakers from local businesses (Estyn, 2017).

It is important to understand how policies of employer engagement have developed over the decades, because it can potentially have implications for young people’s entry into the workplace, their post-16 choices and wider development. Indeed, some researchers argue that employer engagement can boost academic attainment (Kashefpakdel, Rehill, & Mann, 2017) and influence young people’s future wages (Kashefpakdel & Percy, 2017). Employer engagement is a diverse domain that deserves further attention to ensure that all schools across Wales and pupils of different socioeconomic backgrounds benefit to the maximum potential.

With this in mind, my PhD research seeks to understand employer engagement in greater depth. It focuses on how EE differs regionally across Wales and the effect of recent policy changes, and then explores the effect of EE on young people’s aspirations and post-16 transitions. It also examines questions about whether EE may reinforce or offset social inequalities. The project aims to achieve this through interviews with 10 business engagement advisors from Careers Wales and qualitative research in three case study schools. As this PhD is in collaboration with the Welsh Government, it is hoped the findings will both inform future policy and contribute to academic understanding.


References

Central Advisory Council for Education [CACE]. (1963). The Newsom report: Half our future. London: HMSO.

Estyn. (2017). The implementation of the careers and world of work framework in secondary schools. Retrieved from https://www.estyn.gov.wales/sites/default/files/documents/Careers%20-%20Thematic%20survey%20report%20%28002%29_0.pdf

Kashefpakdel, E. T., & Percy, C. (2017). Career education that works: An economic analysis using the British Cohort Study. Journal of Education and Work, 30(3), 217–234. https://doi.org/10.1080/13639080.2016.1177636

Kashefpakdel, E., Rehill, J., & Mann, A. (2017). Making the grade: Does involvement in activities with employers impact the academic achievement of young people? Retrieved from https://www.educationandemployers.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Making-the-Grade-3.pdf

Manpower Services Commission [MSC]. (1983). Aims, criteria and guidelines of the new technical and vocational education initiative. London.

UK Government. (1973). Education (Work Experience) Act (Clause 23). London: HMSO.

Welsh Government. (2003). A youth enterprise and entrepreneurship strategy for Wales. Retrieved from https://www.careerswales.com/prof/upload/pdf/2006522_yes_(e).pdf

Welsh Government (2008). Careers and the world of work: A framework for 11 to 19-year-olds in Wales. Welsh Government. Retrieved from https://hwb.gov.wales/curriculum-for-wales-2008/key-stages-2-to-4/careers-and-the-world-of-work-a-framework-for-11-to-19-year-olds-in-wales