6.3 Engaging Employers in Work-based Learning Initiatives
This subchapter addresses effective employers’ engagement and how to build relationships with local companies as well as how to prepare and support the host company in a WBL experience. Therefore, the overall objective is to strengthen your skills to work with employers in order to promote WBL as a successful methodology to facilitate the entry into the labour market of NEETs with high disadvantages and to understand how to approach and increase the engagement of host employers. The mapping of the local labour market to create an up to date and extensive network of companies in the area willing to receive learners in a work-based learning experience is the first necessary step that you should undertake. Mapping can take many weeks to be completed before being able to implement a WBL experience, this is why you must foresee in advance a reasonable amount of time for that purpose. In addition, creating a database that records contact, information sent and responses will be an effective way of seeing what works to commit employers in WBL.
When you introduce WBL activities to a new potential company, it is wise to start with those that are easiest to implement successfully. A good strategy might be to start with WBL activities like workplace tours or informational interviews that give employers the opportunity to interact with young NEETs with minimal risk. Positive early experiences may lead to employer willingness to engage in WBL activities requiring a higher level of engagement, such as internships.
It is also important to point out the benefits that employers may have in participating in WBL such as improving mentoring, coaching and training skills of their staff and improving diversity in the workplace. Remember that the main outcome of the first contact with an employer (especially if it happens by phone call) is to secure a face-to-face meeting with them. Of course, make sure if possible, that the discussions include the appropriate level of staff e.g. those which will be involved in the day-to-day support of the mentee rather than just senior managers or employers.
During the first face-to-face meeting with potential companies for WBL, you should try to use some principles of business communication (e. g. business communication language) and persuasive techniques. Therefore, it is useful to prepare yourself before the meeting. In any case, how you communicate with employers plays an important role on how you involve and engage them all along the activity. Thus, during the whole WBL activity, the communication with employers should be brief, informative, clear and tailored to the recipients’ needs and organisational cultures. Whenever possible, communication should build on employers’ previous WBL involvement. Because WBL is not a one-time initiative, special efforts should be made to retain employers as WBL participants year after year.
As already said, employers whose first experience with WBL is positive are much more likely to participate again in the future. Other important elements that you should take into account to engage employers in WBL concern:
- match between employers’ expectations on WBL and how the WBL activity is implemented in reality;
- provide feedback and recognition to employers to improve future WBL activities. At the end of the WBL you can, for example, contact the company asking for their thoughts about the experience.
It helps, when talking to employers to activate a WBL, to make it clear that you have specific individuals in mind. People respond well to human stories rather than statistics. So, be prepared to produce short presentations of your young clients which do not include personal information but which do cover their past experience and their strengths.
If dealing with NEETs with disabilities, try to provide reasonable accommodations (or ideas on how to set up a free-of-charge reasonable accommodation if possible) in order to help them at the workplace e. g. the devices they can use, the tasks they can perform, etc. Try to be positive and to provide support to the employer. When choosing the young mentee for the WBL placement, ensure that they have conducted research into the company and are familiar with its main activities, products etc. This encourages confidence and is a key aspect for a more successful placement.
Another important aspect where you, as a mentor, should try to involve the employer as much as possible at the beginning of the WBL activity, is the designing of the specific training programme for the mentee. You, your centre and the company must define altogether the learning objectives and the activities foreseen for each mentee during the work-based learning. Involving employers in the definition of learning objectives and in the overall training programme, shows your willingness to engage them. Lastly, keep paperwork to the minimum to ensure a successful placement which does not overload the employer / the in-company tutor.
Reflective questions for the reader:
- How can you map companies in your local area in order to create a network of potential companies for your WBL activities?
- How can you encourage employers to give WBL opportunities to highly disadvantaged NEETs?
- Think about one of your mentees, which weaknesses of this person could be turned into strengths for the company?
- How do you communicate with employers in order to engage them in WBL?