The changing nature of working with employers

Published 5th February 2014

Written by: Cheryl Phillips

I’ve been working in the field of ‘corporate responsibility’ since leaving university 13 years ago.  It wasn’t called ‘corporate responsibility’ then.  Companies that had started the journey may have had a part-time Community Affairs Manager and most did not have anyone with specific responsibility for ‘corporate responsibility’ or CSR.  Today, most companies have become much more sophisticated in their approach to it, even smaller companies who are seen to have less scope to engage in community involvement.  Corporate responsibility has become an industry in its own right with a range of organisations and consultants selling their services to help companies to get better at it.

In the early days of what is now called ‘corporate responsibility’, it was sometimes difficult for companies to see community involvement with schools, charities etc as more than charity or philanthropy.  It was, at times, deeply frustrating, when in reality the company would receive considerable ‘return on investment’ through the staff development, corporate culture enhancement, PR etc they achieved both for themselves and the community partner.  Convincing companies that their support provided a two-way benefit was challenging.  However, things have changed.  Companies don’t just recognise that they get a benefit from their investment – they record it, measure it, report it and win awards for it.  Some companies have really embraced corporate responsibility and taken it to a new level, embedding the benefits within their organisation’s strategy to help mitigate business risk.  A key example of this is the skills of their future workforce.  Manufacturing is known to have an aging workforce and there are many strategies being used, including corporate community involvement, to try to tackle this issue.

A recent report by the Edge Foundation, ‘Profound employer engagement in education: what it is and options for scaling it up’ discusses the various forms of industry engagement with schools highlighting the difference between what they term ‘superficial’ engagement and ‘profound’ engagement.  In the same way that corporate responsibility has seen business embed community involvement into ‘business as usual’, ‘profound’ employer engagement describes a situation where schools have embedded company involvement in teaching and learning, pupil progression and institutional operations.  The merits of this approach are not yet well tested.  However, it seems logical that young people would be better prepared for the world of work if they have already had a significant engagement with business during   their time at school.

‘Skills Gap’ is likely to be a programme that would be described as an example of ‘profound’ employer engagement.  New to the D&T Association and currently in a pilot phase, the Skills Gap programme works with industry to support D&T teachers to develop curriculum-relevant design, technical skills and knowledge.  The programme progresses over a five month period putting teachers in the driving seat as they develop new skills and schemes of work to share with their students.  What I was really pleased to see in the report by the Edge Foundation was the recognition that employers need to be engaged in teaching and learning as well as working directly with young people to inspire and support them.  Although this is fantastic to see, I do believe that employer engagement in teaching, learning and curriculum design needs to be structured so that the best use of their involvement is capitalised upon and we don’t ask them to become teachers themselves.

During the last few months of the Skills Gap pilot, we have utilised the skills and knowledge of employers, shaping their involvement to focus upon the sharing of key skills.  As they have engaged, they have developed a deep level of respect for the teaching profession; gaining insights into what is involved in developing a scheme of work; particularly if it is a scheme of work which will be replicable and also shareable with multiple schools.  Skills Gap has played a privileged role in supporting teachers to think creatively about how they can build new skills into lesson planning; building upon their expertise as teachers.

I’m currently working closely with a couple of businesses who are already engaged in the Skills Gap programme and some who are just joining us.  Similarly, I’m also working with schools and it is a real pleasure to get to know them all.  The sparks of creativity fly when you have positive people who want the very best for young people.  This common agenda brings so many of us together, especially when skills are so high on the agenda for the future of young people and the UK economy.  

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