How Employers Can Continue to Make Strong Digital Connections within Schools and Colleges

In our latest webinar, we caught up with Theo Shenbanjo, Careers Lead at Haberdasher’s Aske’s Federation and Laura Warner, Head of Careers and Work Related Learning at Burntwood School, on how to make strong digital connections within schools and colleges.

Since the start of the pandemic, 40% of employers have said they are either uncertain or have decided to cancel their work experience next year. As a result of the ongoing impact, The Sutton Trust have predicted that social mobility progress/ the attainment gap, will be reversed by 10 years.

What will schools look like in 2020?

Laura – The new buzz term is ‘blended learning’. Due to the size of schools and number of children we’re trying to support, there will definitely be a mix of home learning and school learning. From a careers perspective, time allocated to this is likely to be reduced to focus more on the curriculum. Whilst they still have an important space, it needs to be strategically planned.

What methods are employers using to engage digitally?

All the face-to-face activity we had planned for the next two terms has been pivoted to digital work experience, digital workshops, and more. We have been delivering these products virtually with our current clients, and at MKF we are in a unique position to build those solutions for employers in schools, look at what schools need, then what we can offer.

Laura – From the perspective of my school, we’re having a lot more issues with students who are disadvantaged being able to access resources. We used to have regular face-to-face events with employers and we need to continue that. Employees talking to students about how they got into their job, what they studied at university, available apprenticeships, required skills etc gives them insight into industries. They need to speak to students on a personal level, as we’re currently lacking that personal touch. The virtual work experience will become a big area for development. We’re able to do this with Years 12 and 13, but with younger students it’s harder to manage the safeguarding. What we have found, is that one day workshops are easier for students as they need to balance their curriculum work.

Theo – I am an ambassador for the Haberdasher company, so we have lots of different schools under the same umbrella. I set up a YouTube channel and was able to answer the questions from lots of young people. They may not have access to a laptop, but most young people have a smartphone. A webinar can be a barrier, as they often have to sign up to a website first. Students need immediate access and participation. They like to access information on Instagram or YouTube, where they can just click from their phone and it’s easily accessible. By putting answers to their questions on YouTube they can access it at any time, which is a huge benefit of digital activity. They aren’t really clear what’s expected of them, or what a webinar is, so you have to meet them where they are.

Gatsby Benchmarks

Even though we’re pivoting to digital, we still need to meet the Gatsby Benchmarks, and we need to keep this in mind. The benchmarks include various requirements such as engagement with employers, and access to higher education. As schools need to mark their provisions against these benchmarks, we need to be really clear how they will do this. It’s really important that young people still hear directly from employers, and at MKF we have stringent safeguarding measures in place that we can prove to schools and career leaders.

Delivering engaging digital alternatives

Laura – Students are feeling overwhelmed by the new normal and there has to be a clear purpose to what we offer. The tangibility of the opportunity is really important, as students seem to be more engaged, whether it’s an essay competition or something more academic. There doesn’t necessarily need to be a significant prize – you can feature their project on Snapchat, or ask them to make a video that’s featured on Instagram.

Students will still apply for university and jobs, these are non-negotiable, so whether there are webinars on how to write a personal statement, a good job application, or what recruitment will look like in 3/4 years time when A-Level students are applying for jobs.

Ehi Ollimese and Chioera Akpapuna, pupils from Sacred Heart School participate in a project at S.E. London, London Power Tunnels STEM and careers outreach programme, 9th March, 2020.
Photos for National Grid by John Robertson.


Theo – For digital alternatives to be successful they need to be easy to access. Employers can’t just put a little bit of resource into it – students need to buy in and invest in the process. Virtual work experience needs to be a useful experience, that is communicated through the whole company. Invite the students to a company Zoom call, and send them resources. A virtual alternative still needs to deliver value, meaningful engagement, and valuable outcomes. There needs to be that element of critical thought included, because as a result of the engagement, students will see themselves either joining or not joining that industry.

If it is purely a student recruitment exercise, this can be seen through instantly. For example, the Head of Admissions leading a webinar, compared to the Professor of Genetics. Someone who is passionate and experienced about their subject makes the difference between inspiring students, and making them not want to go to that uni.

What more can employers do?

It’s important to allow the school to have a direct named person to speak to, as they are overwhelmed with offers. You must also engage now. We don’t know when face-to-face will resume again, so speak to teachers and find out what they need. Speak to those intermediaries who have great connections and links, who can support you through this.

Laura – I’m going to skim read the email marketing, if there’s not something tangible I can see or we don’t have a contact at that company. It needs to be direct, concise and with a clear call to action. We know the resources coming from MKF are checked with the Gatsby Benchmarks, which is why we work with them. As we become more overwhelmed with emails and offers, it’s easiest to do that with an external partner as it helps to streamline those offers that we receive.

Theo – Don’t be scared to get involved – it’s so easy to change a young person’s life.

I had an employer last week who works at Bloomberg, and they did an introduction tour of what it looks like at the office during Covid, and then they gave the students some activities that related to trading. It was amazing to see the tangible impact it had, and that was on a group of 80 students. It’s usually with a class of 30, but now students are able to watch this later, and with their parents, and messaging to get involved. There’s so much that can be done, as it’s not just one assembly every month any more. We can target students different interests directly with the resources, so you’re talking to an invested audience, with greater reach.

Are there meaningful volunteering engagements for staff?

If the students hear directly from employers, it’s really impactful. MKF have a mentoring function on Connectr, and they can volunteer their time. Also, with our digital workshops there’s a space to do a bit of a Q&A and talk about their career journey.

What’s important to see from employers right now?

Theo – Diverse representation and diverse qualifications. Students often have a stereotypical idea of how to get into a role and what it involves, and what qualifications you need to get into the industry. It’s about showing students you can study something you’re really passionate about at uni, do an internship at a company you’d never considered before, and then find you love it. It’s really important to encourage students. There’s a lot of pressure on them and they need to know that they may change their mind. They don’t have to decide now.

Laura – The word ‘now’. Between now and the end of term, we’ve actually got quite a lot of resources to take us through.

What’s important is spending the next few months thinking what you can offer us in September. You might have great ideas but if you only share it in February, there isn’t much we can do with it. Share your year plan with us in Sept/Oct, even if it’s only available in Feb/March, so that we can start to plan it in now.