Building strategic employer relationships

This resource looks at feedback from Wave 1 T Level providers, describing how they, at organisational level, embraced their employer engagement strategy. It raises some considerations for those providers seeking to follow the same strategy, either amending current processes or adopting new ones 

The unique selling point of a T Level is the high-quality industry placement that the student is required to complete.  The industry placement is not a small ask, it requires a significant commitment and provides potential benefits to both the employer and the student. Strategic long-term relationships with employers able to offer industry placement are essential.  


How to use this resource 

You can use this resource to remind yourself of your current organisation-wide strategy by the organisational and T Level context for industry placements. You may already have a clear understanding through the use of the T Level Planner or other resources.  

The organisational and T Level context for industry placements 

You will need to be prepared for what may be a significant change for your organisation 

You’ll need a clear understanding of: 

Your vision for T Levels and industry placements 

      • how T Levels and industry placements fit into your existing offer 
      • how this vision links to Government strategy and fits with national guidance 
      • how students can progress to and from the T Level programmes 
      • how T Levels are enhancing or replacing your current offer 
      • how you are communicating the vision to all staff 

You could use the T Levels timeline to delivery and roles, responsibilities and collaboration to support your understanding. 

Your implementation strategy 

      • how staff are involved in planning the strategy 
      • how your T Level and industry placement implementation board or working groups oversee the organisational process 
      • how your curriculum implementation boards links to the Strategic Board  

Find more information in T Levels implementation groups terms of reference. 

Your strategic communication on progress 

      • your Staff Communication Strategy and plan 
      • your Employer Communication Strategy and plan 
      • how you make sure all staff have access to the most up to date information and guidance on T Levels and industry placements
      • how your strategic and curriculum implementation boards communicate with all staff (team meetings, newsletters, T Levels bulletins) 
      • how closely your Governors are supporting the implementation and strategy

Your whole organisation approach to developing strategic employer relationships 

It would be sensible to consider how you currently manage the following and if and how it may need to change: 

      • employer engagement as a centralised or devolved activity 
      • employer marketing and promotion 
      • employer collateral that captures all opportunities for engagement 
      • data capture through a CRM or equivalent 
      • how will you ensure that silos do not occur with teams retaining employer contacts and fragmenting the organisational approach? 
      • the position of industry placements alongside other employer engagement requirements such as apprenticeships, work experience and employer input with the curriculum

Case study: Chichester College Group

Chichester College Group are conscious that the changes to the curriculum offer brought about by introducing T Levels, affect many teams - not just the sales and placement officers, but also admissions, exams, curriculum and other teams.

For this reason, they took the decision to implement a while organisational approach to employer engagement. This change was communicated to all the staff to reinforce the opportunities and expectations.

Underpinning this approach is the new CRM system use to capture employer contacts and actions and support professional, informed employer communication.

this enhanced focus on the employer engagement and reinforced messaging has to consistent messages for employers about opportunities and how they can benefit from working with the college in new ways including hosting students industry placements.

To maintain the emphasis, engaging employers is high on the agenda of the senior leadership team. They too support awareness raised and employer engagement alongside others at meeting with external partners, employer networks or with key local employers.

Planning the strategy and structures to underpin the development of strategic relationships with employers

The sooner employers can become involved the better. Their knowledge, resources and energy will support the implementation process. Engagement with employers 12-18 months in advance of going live with industry placements is an advantage. This gives the employer time to fully understand the programme and to engage in several helpful ways. Below are a few ideas: 

1. Employer Boards

Setting up an employer board within a curriculum area will provide a structure capable of maximising two-way communication.

Through perhaps termly meetings (breakfast meetings are popular), the group can come together with agendas that may include: 

      • updates on curriculum development 
      • information on information, advice and guidance for students and their parents/guardians 
      • joint problem solving around difficult areas to cover in the curriculum  
      • discussions on activities that would be suitable within industry placements 
      • sharing health and safety updates  
      • discussing key areas of concern – student readiness requirements, timing for industry placements, preferred models for placements, fit with the curriculum, sequence of learning 
      • determine opportunities to share resources, jointly solve issues

Employers will be able to contribute intelligence about the sector: 

      • sharing the most up to date information on the sector generally and specifically their own organisation 
      • employer network representatives may be able to provide the board with sector intelligence and updates in areas such as funding, innovation and LMI 
      • discussing up to date equipment and resources commonly used within organisations 
      • highlighting upcoming changes within the sector or organisations

Employer boards will provide a platform for developing the relationship of trust required to ensure a long-term strategic partnership can evolve. Barriers found within the curriculum design may be overcome with employer support and as employer knowledge and confidence about T Levels and industry placements grows, their confidence will increase and barriers to offering placements will diminish 

2. T Parties

Regular, informal opportunities for employers to meet with your organisation can form a helpful part of the communication and engagement strategy. They could provide a forum for raising awareness, keeping employers up to date, gathering intelligence and sharing local intelligence.

These are likely to be a larger gathering than employer boards and could provide a forum for wider, cross curriculum engagement. 

3. Curriculum Meetings

Inviting employers to ‘task and finish’ style meetings where short, sharp consultation is required to solve an issue or meet a challenge can be motivational for all and result in a raised awareness about the cutting-edge curriculum being developed. 

4. Surveys

Engaging employers through surveys can increase your network of employers.  Surveys designed to provide simple data with a call to action that could be helpful to an employer, can entice them towards your organisation.

An example of this can be seen at Cirencester College where a H&S survey generated over 80 responses – far higher than any previous survey and gave the college employer details to add to appropriate communications from your employer communication strategy.  

5. Provider: Employer Collaborations

Working collaboratively with other learning providers across FE and HE can result in a wider view of learning options, facilities, opportunities and progression options. 

This holistic view will enable employers to get a greater sense of the wider learning journey available to underpin staff development for their teams and individuals. One great example of a successful collaboration can be seen at Grimsby College. 

Case study: Grimsby College - Career Confidence Collaboration with the NHS

Grimsby College has worked together with a range of other local learning providers to create a shared database and consistent offer to their local NHS employers.

This has the benefit of not bombarding NHS representatives with multiple requests to support industry placements and other opportunities.

Contacts are planning and resulting placement opportunities shared between providers evenly so that all providers receive a fair share. This co-operative and consistent method means that students have a good chance of accessing available opportunities. 

Building and maintaining strategic employer relationships 

Employer engagement is fundamentally about relationships. The strategic role is to provide an environment where professional relationships between staff and employers can be built, developed and maintained. 

Building such relationships takes time and energy, perhaps even skills development for some team members without prior experience of this way of working. That said, there will be plenty of skilled team members already in your organisation who can share their expertise and experience.

Bringing this expertise together into a central structure, or a structure where everyone is working together, will be a challenge.  Here are some thoughts you could consider to achieve professional, strategic employer relationships. 

  1. Do you have a centralised employer engagement strategy highlighting what, where, how, who, when and by whom, as well as how success will be monitored, tracked and measured and the tools required to capture that information? 
  2. Do you have an employer communication strategy for the year which is linked to the engagement strategy and includes branding, key messages? 
  3. Does your external communication focus on benefits for employers of all shapes and sizes, links to key employer needs (building a talent pipeline, inspiring the existing workforce, supporting at peak times, contribution to significant projects, supporting design projects that lead to innovation, CSR), leverage existing employer case studies, and avoid sounding like an apology or asking for a favour? 
  4. Does your employer collateral provide options and flexibilities for employer engagement? 

Case study: Chichester College Group

To support employer engagement the college considered all the existing activities and events, including social media, to confirm they include the benefits of taking on industry placement students. Awareness sessions were introduced to create partnerships with employers keen to support design and delivery and help develop programmes that are fit for purpose.

A new role of Industry Placement Officer (IPO) was introduced together with communication processes between this team and the existing Sale Executives. The IPOs and curriculum teams also needed to work well together to share intelligence with outward-facing teams around placement requirements, timings and opportunities and to understand challenges employers face.

To provide an initial boost to employer engagement the College Group hired a telemarketing company to generate warm leads to grow their network of employers. This allows IPOs to hit the ground running in developing new employer kinks and relationships.

The role of governance and senior leader oversight 

Have you allocated a senior leader, perhaps from the organisational implementation board, or a Governor to each curriculum implementation team to provide support

This senior representative may not only provide a direct link back to the organisational board but could also nurture a number of strategically significant employer relationships, providing two-way communication and gravitas to the employer relationship.  

Account management / trusted adviser 

  1. Are your key employer contact accounts managed by an Account Manager, someone who owns the relationship and oversees their communication and engagement? 
  2. What systems (CRM) support your Account Managers and Engagement teams to track, monitor and maintain up to date employer relationships? 
  3. How do your systems ensure that no employer relationships remain untracked and you have a one organisation approach with no teams competing for leads with their own colleagues? 
  4. How do you prepare your Account Managers and Employer Engagement staff to understand their role as ‘Trusted Adviser’ for the employer? 
  5. What structures are in place that allow staff and teams to collaborate, share good practice, share intel on employer engagement and avoid duplication of effort across the organisation?  This is especially important if you have multiple teams with separate engagement targets and makes sure everyone knows who last contacted an employer and why. 
  6. Can you provide specialist training on account management where required to develop skills of building relationships and not just making sales?  

Case study: Chichester College Group

The CRM implementation has been an excellent development opportunity. The system is fit-for-purpose and college-wide; it has a customised look and feel helping staff take ownership of the system and adopt it as a key tool in supporting professional employer engagement.

The CRM provides instant access to information on employers and where they are with engagement. Being an organisation-wide system, it supports cross-department engagement, for example, being able to see opportunities with employers who may already be involved in apprenticeships. As employers have developed their awareness and confidence around T Levels, they are feeling able to offer placements within their organisation in curriculum areas that are not their key area of business. For example, engineering and childcare companies have committed to support digital T Level placements.

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