Conditions for employer engagement

Reflecting upon what makes a university operationally ready to engage with employers in collaborative provision, I have pulled together a list of “good conditions for employer engagement“. Its purpose is simply to provide prompts  for discussion about how institutions can prepare to engage with employers to meet the development needs of the workforce.  This list assumes that there is already a strategic level commitment in place and it is of course not exhaustive.

Employer engagement in HE: Building for the Future

Today I was at the HEFCE Employer Engagement Conference at The Studio in Manchester. This event brought together very many practitioners involved in working with employers to support leaning through, at and for work.

Across a wide range of sessions the messages I picked up were resoundingly as follows:

  • Working well with employers requires a long-term strategic approach that has buy-in and support at all levels of the organization. Without this efforts are futile.
  • Working with employers is about forming business-to-business relationships; it is about using a language that is unassuming and taking an attitude that is responsive and respectful. This doesn’t mean ditching the values that are traditionally held in HE – it s rather about a new kind of openness.
  • Dedicated units or teams to support employer engagement can be very effective at promoting confidence and competence of other staff. The link between such units and academic departments is critical since this is usually the expertise that companies want to access! Such a model was called hub and spoke when modeled by KSA. As an expansion of this I envisage a truly functional arrangement as more like a community of practice.
  • Working with employers requires a ‘can do’ approach. It’s OK not to have the answers, but a willingness to find solutions to meet a business need is critical. A provider centric approach will not be satisfactory to employers.
  • The resource put in to this area of work by HEFCE and institutions themselves has yielded some incredibly innovative, creative and diverse developments relating to curriculum, pedagogy, technology, infrastructure, data management and fostering different forms of collaboration.
  • Despite market analysis, in all its sophisticated forms, an academic’s personal networks can be a significant force in forming productive business facing partnerships. Building confidence such that academics feel trusting enough, of perhaps lesser known colleagues, to let them near their contacts is needed.
  • Costing workforce development arrangements remains highly problematic across the sector. Unanimously, it seemed, full economic costing approaches were seen as totally inappropriate. The emerging favoured model is an approach with understands the cost of this work and thereafter prices consistently and sensitively.
  • The benefits of this type of work need to be shown in a way that replies to a business need. How much is saved through staff retention? How much does the more effective practice bring to the business? We need to stop being wooly in this area.
  • Caution is needed  to avoid inter-organizational competitiveness to the detriment of all; examples of collaboration show that this can be a highly productive and mutually beneficial way of working with employers.
  • More is needed to professionalise this form of activity – to ensure that staff working at the interface of business and HEI’s are recognized and rewarded in a way, which is proportionate to their roles.

Today it was simply very rewarding to be able to see the collective impact of work undertaken in this activity stream. This included stories of learner transformation through students being given new opportunities, insight in to the volume of people that this work has touched (over 30,000 individuals) and a sense of the power of persistence amongst the people driving this work who press on even when they feel as welcome as a door to door salesman amongst some they seek to engage! It was also good to be able to share some of our own insights from the work undertaken around different approaches to collaborating with partners and particularly in relation to managing a diverse portfolio of work.

An approach to graduate development for employer engagement

We have been developing a series of online modules that may be combined to form a postgraduate certificate, a postgraduate diploma or even an MSc. One of the core modules is summarised in this ‘walk through’ along with details of how the module may be used and customised by employers or professional bodies to make it their own. The same principles apply to all the modules in the suite.
Modules are provided with generic resources maybe taken and customised to the employers requirements thus providing a bespoke graduate programme .

Find out more by downloading the explanatory document.

Professional Studies – A graduate development approach

Conceptualising wrappers

One of the curriculum tools under early usage at the moment is a wrapper module. Now in operation these modules enable higher level learning to wrap around work-based training. Through extensions of various sorts the core learning can be escalated and deepened. The following diagram tries to conceptualise  this for a forthcoming publication (click to view) :

Resourcing: Swarming for employer enagement

Resourcing remains a major challenge for employer engagement work- how can HEI’s that run on timetables with clearly defined workload parameters react to provide timely, high quality provision or invest the time to facilitate the external creation of arrangements. This challenge is always at the fore when turning proposals in to reality. Whilst there is perhaps no single answer I found it helpful to frame resourcing issues against the bigger picture of change in organisations painted here. In reading this I was able to step back and see that the resource organisation issues that may challenge us on a daily basis are perhaps experienced more widely  and perhaps these resourcing tensions exist as we switch from teacher centric to more rapid, learner responsive approaches. Good to see the bigger picture.

A pattern I can clearly identify with is ‘swarming’

Swarming is a work style characterized by a flurry of collective activity by anyone and everyone conceivably available and able to add value. Gartner identifies two phenomena within the collective activity; Teaming (instead of solo performances) will be valued and rewarded more and occur more frequently and a new form of teaming, which Gartner calls swarming, to distinguish it from more historical teaming models, is emerging. Teams have historically consisted of people who have worked together before and who know each other reasonably well, often working in the same organization and for the same manager. Swarms form quickly, attacking a problem or opportunity and then quickly dissipating. Swarming is an agile response to an observed increase in ad hoc action requirements, as ad hoc activities continue to displace structured, bureaucratic situations.

As new proposals arrive swarming seems to be the way that they are supported.

For many institutions, with resource constraints, work-load patterns and buy in, it is often a swarm of the willing. A challenge is to naturalise this work pattern to a wider range of others to most effectively respond to employers.

Harper Adams PgC Professional Studies – Recruiting now.

Harper Adams is to launch Postgraduate Certificate in Professional Studies, beginning September 2010.  The PgCert is a self contained qualification completed in one academic year. It is intended to feed in to the Harper Adams validated PgDip and thereafter the MSc in Professional Studies (which are also online).  It may also feed in to a Negotiated Studies award.


Who is it for?

The award is suitable for developing or established  professionals who are seeking to develop their knowledge of, and practice in, their own work context. Applications are particularly welcome from, though not limited to,  individuals connected to the rural economy – for example staff in rurally focussed colleges and businesses.

What is the course?

During this course you will be able to undertake learning in your work place whilst receiving online support and guidance, and whilst working towards a postgraduate qualification. This two module programme is delivered fully online; there is no requirement to attend campus.

In the module ‘Analysing the work setting’ you will explore your workplace and your sector in a systematic and critical way. You will consider what traditions and events have influenced your area of practice and how future trends are likely to influence your professional domain. You will identify what the current challenges are for your industry and you will develop value-positions on current debates. In the exploration of your work context you will seek out and analyse case study of responsible practice.

In the module ‘action research’ you will undertake a small scale project which implements a change within your own practice with the aim of generating an improvement. The module equips you with the necessary strategies to methodically design, implement and systematically evaluate a change in your own practice whilst adhering to an established research strategy for real world work-place research.

This course is enables you to engage in a formal programme of study which is highly personalised, and relevant. It enables a deeper understanding of current issues, practices and traditions to be formed, whilst also developing communication skills, research skills and critical thinking. The course is delivered at a distance through a range of resources, guided activities and online discussions (through tutor facilitated forums). The development of an online community space provides the opportunity for rich cross-professional peer interaction as well as tutor support.  Assessment is undertaken via a portfolio that relates directly to the learning journey, the online activities and the individual research and inquiry undertaken.

How will it benefit me?

The postgraduate certificate programme offers the chance to stand back and analyse your own sector and your own practice to develop a deeper understanding of historical influences, current challenges and future opportunities. In developing this knowledge you are equipped with significant contextual information to enable you to thrive within your career, such contextual knowledge can particularly provide a useful backdrop for decision making and leading teams or projects. The programme also provides a clear opportunity for the development of your own personal practice; it provides a vehicle to implement change for improvement. Through the development of a project for improvement, informed by thorough planning, your organisation may also reap the benefits of your project. To maximise the benefits of your project you are encouraged to disseminate any valuable information or outputs.

You will become skilled in collecting, analysing and interpreting data (qualitative or quantitative) and you will become confident in critically using a range of information sources including academic texts, industry documents and media rich and more informal information sources. Through engagement with the online mode of delivery and engagement in the online community you will further develop your own skills in the use of online technologies. You communication skills will be developed in the workplace as you engage with colleagues to inform your development and also through the online forum where you will share ideas, offer critical friendship and engage with tutors.  

For entrants in 2010/11 a number of subsidised places are available – for a discussion about the course, including access to a fee subsidy, please contact or call 01952 815277