Igniting student motivation: The importance of employers

So many of us who work in further education talk about the importance of employers in supporting students’ learning. Sometimes we talk about this as if we all agree and employers really are in the ‘driving seat’ of the skills agenda.

I was recently challenged on this by one of our Governors of Activate Learning, Kathy Slack, who asked whether we think all employers are AWARE of how crucial their role is in influencing the learning experiences of students.

Employers play a vital role in shaping FE

I have thought a lot about this and think Kathy has a great point here. Employers do play a vital role, of course, and yet many of them don’t recognise how incredibly important their role is.

Those of us leading colleges need to accept our share of responsibility here. We could be doing more to remind them of the different roles that they play.

Where employers can add greatest value to the learning process is in igniting students’ motivation. In our Learning Philosophy, alongside brain and emotion, motivation is the third key ingredient to brilliant learning. When learning happens in a theoretical vacuum, students can struggle to see the relevance and purpose of what they are learning and why; their motivation levels can drop along with the amount of effort and practice they put into learning new skills and information.

Motivated students thrive

I am sure we can all remember a time when we were studying a particular topic at school and thinking, will I ever use this again when I’m working?!

A practical example to illustrate the point is when some of our hospitality students are asked to study mathematics alongside their main chef programme created in partnership with the Fat Duck Group. Students question the relevance of the subject when their primary interest is becoming an exciting innovative chef and their favourite role models include Heston Blumenthal or Monica Galetti!

Championing holistic learning

Yet every successful chef knows that they need to be confident with basic arithmetic, since familiarity with fractions and ratios is often essential to producing exquisite cuisine – and then going on to run their own successful restaurant business in the future.

At Activate Learning, we strive to make learning experiences authentic, reflecting the vocational career pathway so that students can more easily understand the bigger picture, make neural connections and increase focus towards their career goal. Neuroscience research shows that when we understand information and can process information deeply, we are more likely to make neural connections and remember it in the future.

Ensuring rich interactions with employers

The real game changer in increasing students’ motivation happens when they work directly with employers. Using the Gatsby Careers Framework, we build in a range of rich employer interactions with students to bring ‘career pathway learning to life’. These include employer guest speakers, employer led projects, visits to industry, or learning ‘in the field’ through work experience, industry placements for T-Level qualifications and apprenticeships.

Some of the many employers who support and work with us include BMW apprentices who are their talent pipeline; Huawei who offer our Digital T-Level students Industry Placements; and NHS Trusts who work with Health and Social Care students.

The benefit of real-world learning is a win-win for both employers and students. For employers, they have a unique opportunity to co-develop future industry talent, ensuring students develop the relevant ‘employment ready skills’, knowledge and behaviours. For students, they have the wonderful opportunity of learning from industry experts who coach and mentor them to achieve even higher levels of focus and commitment!

The benefit of real-world learning

The benefits are real, all around. It’s time for us to shout about them more, so that hopefully more employers will step forward to play the role that only they can play.

I remember one employer saying to a group of our students: “Qualifications will get you through the door, but it’s your additional experiences and attributes that will get you the job”. Today this advice is more relevant than ever.

We welcome any employers who want to work with us on developing future talent. If you would like to make a difference by playing a critical role in the learning process, please contact Nancy.Buckley@ActivateLearning.ac.uk.

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