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Seminar Report

Seminar 3: Employer Engagement Report

The third Innovation Seminar focusing on emerging lessons around employer engagement was held on 25 February 2011. The seminar focussed on the role of technology as an enabler for employer engagement and shared evidence from the lifelong learning and work force development projects.

The seminar can be viewed in elluminate at http://elluminate.jisc-ssbr.net/play_recording.html?recordingId=1250872506704_1298630216553 and copies of the presentation and briefing paper on employer engagement issues and examples are available for download here http://ssbr0211.inin.jisc-ssbr.net/

Institutions are using different technological approaches to engage employers in course development, tailored to the varying needs of employers. Successful work-based learning programmes rely on good, long-term relationships between institutions and employers, and technologies must fit easily into employers’ work practices to be successful.

Issues from the programme meeting

The employers involved in the lifelong learning and work force development projects are diverse in needs and structure, they range across the public and private sector and  across professional areas, and they vary in size.  There is a difference in culture between academics and employers and a need for effective communication across institutions and between institutions and employers. Relationships with employers need to be sustained and developed over time, and institutions need to be flexible as employers’ needs change. The technology can offer opportunities to address these issues, but we need to consider the IT skills of employers and the differences in the types of systems used between business and education.

The seminar consulted on issues around the employers’ readiness to accept online or technology-supported learning; the need for systems and processes to be joined up to support effective employer engagement; and approaches to sharing learner information between employers and institutions.

Expectations of Employers

If employers and employees have no experience of higher education or have gone through a more traditional higher educational experience they might not have an understanding of what the university can now offer.  The discussions suggested that this may depend on the maturity of the employers’ interactions with universities around professional development.  It may be driven by circumstances, e.g. if they cannot release the employee and have resource problems, or it can depend on the location of the employer, or whether they are outside the UK. Any of these reasons can be a rationale for employers to consider online learning.

Examples from the seminar may suggest how technology can be used.

  • Online submission: employers/work based learners prefer assessment submission and support online
  • Individual preference: where individuals in SMEs were paying for courses they preferred online learning
  • Learning in the work place: employers prefer their employees to be available in case of crisis, so prefer learning on site or distance learning, and there is also the cost to take employees out of operational roles, and pay travel to a training venue.
  • Emergent technologies: communications technologies such as Skype or Elluminate have been used successfully to support learning in the work place, provided employers allow their use within the company. There are restrictions on the use of most of the free applications in the work place.
  • ICT systems can support the learner/potential learner in making decisions on progression routes/course/module options, advanced standing, etc – rather like The Edinburgh, Lothians, Fife and Borders Regional Articulation Hub (ELRAH)  is doing in Scotland; see http://www.elrah.ac.uk/ELRAHProjects.htm

 

Joined-up systems and processes across institutions

The systems and processes in most institutions are normally structured for full time degrees and are slow to adapt to the needs of work-based courses. The culture of WBL often develops at faculty or dept level and there is little joined-up coordination across the institution. A view has been expressed  that without coordination across the institutions, WBL will remain a cottage industry for Universities and they will not be able to meet the potential opportunities for WBL from employers.  There is also a need for coordination across sector networks, regional or local networks.

Some comments that illustrated this point are below.

  • Engagement with employers is often through one contact, relying on enthusiastic individuals to connect across the university/employer and that is a very risky strategy for the institution and the employer. It needs to be coordinated across the institution. The key to avoiding the problems around changing circumstance and need of the employer is to maintain a managed and strategic relationship where possible, which has led to the appointment of relationship managers across the institution, rules of engagement, some agreed concept of service, data access agreements, etc.
  • These are big issues for HEI (to join-up systems across institutions for WBL) – they imply wholesale changes to working practices and work roles in what are very ‘static’ contexts.
  • We need to develop a culture of information and contact sharing across faculties and institutions (especially academics) – employers’ needs are often cross-disciplinary. There are major opportunities for HEIs/FECs here if we develop the processes to support this engagement activity.
  • Cross-faculty provision also has implications for communication between an employer and an institution.  Provision which is not aligned to any particular faculty can also be an issue.
  • Some organisational approach which enables relationship management across the institution. It’s quite likely that people in research areas are also contacting the same employers without being aware they are also being contacted for training courses.

 

Sharing Data with Employers

Employer engagement requires the sharing of information between institutions and employers relating to learners.  There are issues of confidentiality that need to be addressed about sharing learner information with a third party, and also where learners discuss work-based issues as a part of their learning on web-based learning environments such as portfolios, blogs or VLEs. These issues need to agreed in advance (in a tripartite agreement, between the learner, institution and employer) to include a learning contract which sets out objectives, learning outcomes, learning & assessment methods and any protocols. For example: data exchange and (depending on the level of engagement) the tools used to engage employers with students’ progress may be different to a more corporate level sharing of data.

The SAMSON project at Nottingham addressed a request from an employer who wanted information about their students’ attainment. This was achieved by allowing learners to provide weekly updates (from their e-portfolios) to the employer via a simple portal.  Learners could chose to share some of what was in their e-portfolio with the employer via the portal. The portal also gave employers information such as assignment deadlines, so they knew when learners were going to be busy.  Linking the learning environment (i.e. e-portfolio system in this case) to a simple employer accessed portal meant that information could be shared without employers having to access the learning environment.

e-Portfolios were cited as one example of technology being used to share information between learners and employers.  Learners require any information in the e-portfolio systems to be portable between systems (or not held exclusively within an institutional system) so they can take it with them when they move course or employer.

Conclusion

The seminar illustrated many examples of the role of technology as an enabler for employer engagement for supporting learning and sharing information.  There was a strong message of the need for institutions to coordinate employer engagement processes across faculties and departments. The discussion also raised questions around areas that can be explored further.

  • Different motivators for engaging with HEIs/FECs and private providers.
  • The types of solutions needed/used by institutions, depending on the level of engagement.
  • How institutions are addressing the risks of sharing confidential information with employers when the most commonly used method is email with an attachment.

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