Getting value from employer visits

With limited careers funding, your school or college needs all the discretionary support it can get from employers. Managed well, visits and talks can inspire pupils and motivate significantly higher levels of positive engagement with your careers service. That should result in more of them moving promptly into the world of work or further training, and less becoming NEETs.

Preparation is necessary, but it’s no exaggeration to say that the value of your time spent may well be paid back dozens of times over. That’s because, left to chance, such visits not only risk consuming your already stretched resources, they can end up demotivating many students and leave some with an enduring sense of hopelessness. If an employer gets it wrong on the day, you’re worse off than if they hadn’t agreed to come along in the first place.

Firstly, it’s important to understand what motivates an individual employer to commit resources and money to a school or college visit. Obviously, they have an eye on future staffing, but since employers may be local, regional, national or even international, the picture isn’t so simple.

  • Some employers, and some key people inside them, feel a genuine sense of social contribution from helping to advise and guide young people, regardless of any vested interest.
  • Others have access to large CSR (corporate social responsibility) budgets and this is just one channel for them to spend that budget.
  • It’s not uncommon for visit-funding to come from marketing budgets, and visits may form part of a PR (public relations) exercise, linking through to brand-building or advertising campaigns.
  • Larger organisations with newly launched apprenticeship and degree apprenticeship schemes may see school visits as a more effective form of recruitment than trying to drive website-traffic.
  • Local employers may see school visits as a cheaper recruitment method than advertising.

Additionally, the quality of the person turning up on the day can vary from the truly committed and charismatic right through to the utterly incompetent, via the uncaring ones sent out on punishment duty, just to get them out of the way for a while. That can all make for a random experience for your students.

Regardless, the picture seems like a no-brainer – they want employees, potentially you have lots of them. However, one of the worst things you can possibly do is to have a local employer with three places to fill deliver a talk which is basically a sales pitch at the ‘brightest and best’, the ‘cream of the crop’ or the ‘elite’. They might hoover up their quota of three from your 150 students, but they may also leave behind 147 disillusioned youngsters that you have to re-motivate, if that’s even possible by then. There are four key steps to take, to get the best out of an employer visit.

Take control

If employers want an opportunity to speak to your pupils, make sure they do so on your terms, as they have so much more they can give than just presenting a list of open vacancies. Your job is to make sure they put the effort in, go the extra mile and engage with and inspire ALL of your students, not just a select few. The bottom line is – if they want access to your potential, you want access to theirs.

Choose your activities

Agree the scope of activities that the employer is willing to engage in. From your point of view, a straightforward talk is universally inclusive, time-effective for all parties and easiest to organise. It may well be the best starting point. However, depending on your time and resources, further useful events may involve such things as search / CV / application workshops, mock interviews, mentoring sessions, workplace visits and work experience periods.

Set out your expectations

Make it clear to potential employers that they’ll need to present the bigger picture, and include ALL students in their talk, if they’re sincere about wanting to help young people. They should at least make the following points:

  • The world of work doesn’t only involve highly talented stellar performers, bent on a world-encompassing, Nobel prize-winning career path. There’s always a need for high numbers of people who just want a job they can enjoy.
  • Engineering businesses, for example, don’t just recruit engineers. They employ people in a diverse range of jobs which can include the functions of: sales; marketing; administration; customer service; IT; design; support; project management; assembly work; inventory management; accounting; law and so on.
  • Conversely, just because someone wants to work in an engineering field, it doesn’t mean they’re limited to fridge-making, or whatever your local employer does. The could instead choose to work in the automotive, marine, environmental, aerospace, renewable energy, defence or transportation sectors, depending upon their interests.

Even though a local employer may be a useful starting point for a school leaver, visiting employers should be prepared to talk about jobs and career paths relative to the whole world of work, even though they’ll obviously, and rightly, be using examples from their own company. Their own vacancies should be secondary, but if they deliver an inspiring talk they will undoubtedly attract the students they want. Importantly for you, they won’t be simultaneously disenfranchising the remainder.

Give visiting employers key messages

  • Tell it like it is. If a visiting employer wants to inspire their audience, they don’t need to stress about not being a charismatic entertainer. A good real-world story and some amusing anecdotes will grip the toughest audience, and teenagers can undoubtedly be a tough nut to crack.
  • Talk about the heroes. Pupils and students don’t necessarily want the detail. In fact, it may be a turn off. A story about a technician’s personal experience overcoming a challenging situation will generate more application-enthusiasm than the description of their training modules and work experience ever might.
  • Include everyone. The world of work needs infantry, as well as future captains. Diverse choices are available, such that everyone can be included in the world of work, no matter what the extent of their ambitions.
  • Don’t forget the late developers. A lot of teenagers have zero idea what they really want to do yet. However, there’s no reason they can’t engage in the world of work until such time as they find out what that is.
  • Explain the ‘work’ deal. Employers give people money in exchange for doing something, reliably, respectfully and honestly. The idea that they need to keep their end of the agreement or they’ll be out will be an alien concept to some teenagers. However, if someone does just want enough money to watch the footie, club it and enjoy themselves at weekends, there’s space for them to do that, so long as they’re prepared to turn up reliably during the week.

Just like decorating, it’s all in the preparation

Research from the CBI and the Careers & Enterprise company clearly demonstrates the value of visiting employers to both pupils and schools / colleges. Young adults who have greater levels of contact with visiting employers are considerably less likely to become NEET and can expect to earn almost 20% more than peers who haven’t experienced work-place encounters.

There is clear value for all parties, but for your school or college to benefit to the maximum, you need to make sure that visiting employers aren’t just out on an easy ride for a few hours. They need to put the effort in beforehand and be prepared to work the room hard. If they shy away from that, look elsewhere, because I suggest you’re probably better off without them.

About the Author

Jon Gregory is an employability specialist, working with schools, employers and parents to help young people into work and a career. He’s a published author in this field, writes for several leading websites and he edits, a site providing free employability advice and tips. Jon also tweets advice from @letsfirewalk