In National Careers Week[i] (7-12th March) Teach First’s Student<>Employer Network, a partnership led by four Teach First[ii] ambassadors, is urging UK businesses to build connections with young people and boost their employment opportunities, using guidance from its new report, ‘Connecting employers to students: a practical guide for engaging young people with the world of work.

The report was co-authored by four social enterprise leaders: Mayur Gupta, CEO, Career Accelerator; Christine Kinnear, CEO, With Insight Education; Patricia Mbangui, Centre Leader, IntoUniversity Walworth (formerly at CoachBright) and Laura North, CEO, We Speak, who have a shared aim to create meaningful connections between schools and businesses.

The report comes at a time when businesses are increasingly recognising the value of engaging in outreach programmes to address their skills shortages, build more diverse talent pipelines and tackle growing inequalities in education and employment.

Christine Kinnear, Founder & CEO, With Insight Education says, “Many businesses want to connect with students to give something back and build their future talent pipelines, but they don’t always know where to start. Our organisations have come together to provide practical support. We have pooled our knowledge, learnings and ideas to help businesses recruit more diverse talent and connect young people to the world of work.”

The recommendations for businesses in the report include:

Put Diversity & Inclusion at the heart of programme delivery – Broad-brush diversity initiatives often fail. Organisations that embed diversity and inclusion successfully in their programmes are insight led, have examined their own diversity and inclusion data, acknowledged and addressed existing diversity gaps and ensure D&I is at the heart of their mission – with hard KPIs in place that hold companies accountable.

Invest in soft skills – Employers say soft skills are as important as academic qualifications, but graduates often lack them. Solutions include businesses collaborating with schools, charities or social enterprises to run programmes with students so they can develop soft skills before they start work. Another way is through other initiatives such as reverse mentoring programmes between students and colleagues which can help people develop soft skills.

Assume you will always pay young people – Unpaid work opportunities can exclude young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. To address this, companies could offer paid part-time work for young people to broaden the opportunities open to them. Employers should assume they will pay young people for any work, rather than asking them to volunteer.

 Widen the talent pool – A report from the Social Mobility Commission[iii] highlights that some industries focus on a small number of elite institutions for recruitment and fail to recruit talented young people from less advantaged backgrounds and such barriers needs to be recognised to generate change.

Understand the student voice – To recruit more diverse young talent, businesses should consultant with young people and ask them what they think. It is also important for businesses to give young people a voice in their companies and provide more opportunities to increase their contribution and participation.

Increase workplace encounters with students – Students often do not have enough meaningful encounters with employers. Equally, employers are often unaware of how to connect with students during the school day (usually during curriculum or pillar days). Solutions include companies creating pupil friendly sessions for school curriculum days, offering workplace encounters to all year groups and developing contacts with career leads in local schools.

How to offer meaningful experiences of the workplace – Work experience placements sometimes do not always provide a realistic picture of day to day working life. Consequently, pupils may not have all the information to make an informed decision about which sectors they would like to work in. Each school is different, so any work placement, internship, a day in the office or a workshop delivered in school, must be tailored to the pupils taking part.

How to partner with state schools – It can be challenging to build relationships with busy state schools. Recommendations include leveraging existing school links within the company. Even if companies currently only have private school or grammar school links, contacts at these institutes will have some connections to state schools.

Designing sustainable and impactful school outreach programmes – There are many barriers to designing a sustainable and impactful school outreach programme, including lack of knowledge, other business priorities and employees at a company not reflecting the demographic of students in state schools. Recommendations include being open about the desired outcomes from the start, co-creating the programme with diversity networks and other departments in the business, and adding school outreach into someone’s job or a committee.

Having a holistic organisational approach when running school outreach – If initiatives aren’t connected to a company’s wider business strategy, then it can limit their overall impact. Gaining senior buy-in for school outreach work is important to ensure this type of work gets sufficient support in an organisation, as are stakeholder meetings with different departments and external partners.

Businesses that are leading the way by engaging and employing young students include Accenture, Deloitte and PWC who have Teach First Ambassador Networks composed of Teach First ambassadors who now work at these companies. Through their networks and utilising their teacher expertise, they deliver high-quality outreach offers to schools.

One of these is Cyrus Suntook, Accenture Teach First Community Sponsor & Social Mobility Network Co-Lead who writes a foreword in the report. He says, “The scale of inequality that faces our society has only been exacerbated by COVID-19. For young people and students, this has meant huge disruption to critical, formative years, and – in many cases – major challenges to their hopes and aspirations. Those closest to those challenges, such as teachers and social workers, need and deserve the active support of a broader community to address these. Collaborative, multi-lateral partnerships such as the Student<>Employer Network are a critical part of the solution, offering a holistic approach to improving student outcomes and connecting businesses and young people in meaningful interactions.”

The Student<>Employer Network is running a webinar on Monday 25 April, 11.30am-12.30pm to show businesses how easy it can be to start engaging with students. To book a place, go to:

To download the new report ‘Connecting employers to students: a practical guide for engaging young people with the world of work’ click here.

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Lisa Baker

Author Lisa Baker

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