How employers can boost their competitiveness by engaging with schools

  • Emma Finamore
  • 18 December 2018

When it comes to recruiting in early careers—and delivering effective careers advice—employers actively engaging with schools and colleges, and engaging directly with the pupils, is vital.

This engagement even forms part of the Gatsby Benchmarks (Number 5: ‘Encounters with employers and employees’), which were recently endorsed by central government when they were included as a central part of the Education Strategy 2018.


Your first thought might be to head to schools, but we’d disagree—the very best engagement with schools actually happens outside of schools. This sounds like nonsense, but we can explain.


Let’s start with why you’re engaging with schools and colleges. Most businesses that engage with schools and colleges are doing so because they’re looking to solve one of four problems: they have difficulty recruiting in a particular location; they have a particular role that’s hard to fill; they want to have a more diverse intake (in terms of gender, social mobility or ethnicity); or they simply struggle to reach quality candidates.


The best events will take place on your premises, not in schools or colleges. An event at your office or place of work will allow young people—and their parents—to see where they might be working. They can get a feel for the business, and it provides an additional filter—people must make the effort to go, which is a good thing.


A good event should also include elements of your selection and assessment criteria. Let’s say you’re looking to improve diversity—it makes little sense to fill a room with a high percentage of BAME candidates if they aren’t able to pass your minimum requirements or fail on the earliest stages of the selection and assessment process.


However, engaging with schools is expensive and time-consuming. Employers surveyed in 2018 by AllAboutResearch said they made an average of 33 school visits per year, at a cost of £6,636. The same research shows that it takes employers an average of over eight and a half hours to build a relationship with a school—multiple visits are required to build a real partnership.


The ISE report also suggests that employers struggle to resource recruitment activities. Around half of employers (54%) are actively trying to reduce the costs incurred during hiring. On average, ISE survey respondents have a team of around six people to run their recruitment, typically supplemented with three external staff. In addition to the cost of staffing, employers are also spending an average of £2,189 for each new hire.


In light of this, many firms prefer to leave engagement and relationship building to experts, so they can concentrate on the content and working with pre-screened candidates who come right to their office. This means you can organise three or four well-attended events, and it offers a better return when you look at the cost per hire.


Top Insights


  • You’re promoting your business—it is far easier and more beneficial to a young person if the event is at your offices or place of work. It’s more genuine.
  • Invite parents. Parents are the major influencer of young people and 8/10 make big decisions in conjunction with their parents. You’ll get better engagement and far better attendance with up to four times fewer no-shows.
  • Engagement should also be assessment and selection.
  • Bussing in a school full of young people is a waste of your time.
  • Students have poor employer recall—they don’t remember who came to their career fairs or assemblies. As one head teacher put it, “Most don’t remember the name of their geography teacher.” You must provide a better focus for your business, and one way to do that is to have more stages to the process.


Here’s an example of how you can make it work for you:


The Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA)


Issue: Women are underrepresented in the actuarial profession by a considerable distance. The IFoA designed an event called “Girls: Count Us In” hosted by the IFoA with guests from other organisations. Dharmini Mistry, marketing manager at the IFoA, said:


“I wanted to show girls that there were many women in the profession who had gone on to achieve the same as men, and that we had companies who were on board to support them along the way too.”


Outcome: The IFoA event was full of relevant pre-screened candidates, in this case, girls interested in pursuing an actuarial career. We worked with our network of schools and used our expertise across the entire recruitment process to provide them with highly relevant and engaged candidates.


The IFoA “set out a clear target market to AllAboutSchoolLeavers and they ensured that the right people came to the event—all the students came prepared with a range of questions and weren’t shy to network with professionals in the industry”.