Involving employers in the curriculum has been shown to increase student engagement (Little and Harvey, 2006) and improve graduate employment opportunities (Cranmer, 2006).
Employers can be involved in your curriculum in a number of ways, such as:
- hosting field/workplace visits
- extended work placements
- as guest speakers
- as members of Advisory Panels to input into curriculum development
- in providing case studies
- in assessing students’ presentations or work placements
Involving employers in your curriculum will involve a time-consuming initial setup, however the long-term benefits can justify this cost.
You will need to consider how you want to involve employers in your curriculum and the level of support that your department will need to give. Suitable staff will need to be identified to work with and organise arrangements. For many employers, working with an HEI will be an unfamiliar experience and therefore detailed guidance will need to be given to ensure that any activity is appropriate.
Starting points to making contact
Before making contact with employers you need to consider how you will present the benefits of working with your course. For example:
- Opportunity to help design curriculum that is relevant to their sector.
- Fresh ideas from student participants.
- Raises their profile and helps to secure a source of employable graduates.
There are a few different avenues that you could use to making initial contact with employers. For example:
- Talk to the Careers service about employers who already have relationships with the University.
- Consider contacting any programme/department alumni who might be in a position to work with you and your students.
- Discuss with colleagues whether they have connections with appropriate employers.
Working with employers
You will need to do a significant amount of planning to work successfully with employers, and this will vary depending on the capacity in which they are engaging. Here are some common challenges to consider:
Motivating students: make sure that they are aware of all of the benefits of working with the employer and prepare them well in advance for any environments, working practices, etc. that may be new to them.
Different understandings of theory and practice: careful attention may need to be paid to employer perceptions versus university perceptions, including giving students plenty of opportunity to ‘debrief’ about their experiences throughout.
Unpaid work: the terms of student involvement (especially during placements) should be carefully verified beforehand; also make sure to address any issues or uncertainties as soon as they arise.
Lack of fit between employer and academic schedules: arrange a timetable that works for everyone well in advance of placements/visits/assessments/etc., but do build flexibility in to respond to any changes as they arise.
At the conclusion
You will need to evaluate any activity to ensure it is meeting both the employer’s and your students’ needs. Make sure to get feedback from both, as well as from colleagues, the external examiner, and any other interested parties.
If the collaboration was successful, make sure it keep in contact with the employer to ensure that they will be willing to participate the next time around.
Resources and Further Reading