In response to critical skills gaps across the UK’s economy, collaborations between education providers and industry are increasingly being used as a tool to prepare young people for the workplace of the future.  

From manufacturing and engineering to teaching and nursing, the skill and staff shortage across the nation has the potential to undermine UK economic performance, limit innovation and threaten progress towards Net Zero. The size and scale of this challenge makes it top of the policy priority list for government departments and thinktanks alike. NCUB asks, how can partnerships between educators and industry create a future workforce that reflects new and evolving sector needs? 

Increasingly, partnerships across sectors are becoming central elements of targeted interventions to reduce the future skills gap. This ranges from education providers and employers collaborating to co-design curricula that teach students emerging and future core skills, through to increasing workplace exposure and placements for young people in careers advice and guidance programmes.  

To be able to make informed decisions on which qualification route to take and career to seek, education providers’ partnerships with industry give students the exposure they need to role models and the wider workforce. It builds an awareness of professions and opportunities both locally and nationally. These partnerships ensure students are taught the practical, vocational and soft skills needed by employers.  

That’s why new and updated initiatives developed by the Department for Education (DfE) and Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) are bringing together employers, careers advisers, local authorities and educators at all levels. These partnerships develop and promote vocational and technical qualifications, and deliver tightened careers advice and guidance programmes. 

Building on the Gatsby principles of careers advice, which ensures education providers have an embedded and stable careers advice programme, updated DfE guidance seeks to increase students’ exposure to workplaces and exposure to workplaces and people in different careers. It mandates that every student has direct exposure to employees so they can learn about work and the skills that are valued by employers. This can be through visiting speakers, mentoring and enterprise schemes. It seeks to give students first-hand exposure to the workplace, through work visits, work shadowing or work experience. 

Schemes delivering this include the Careers and Enterprise Company (CEC), which has around 3,750 Enterprise Advisers and 400 major employers, working with schools and colleges to deliver placements, guidance and workplace exposure. 

Alongside exposure to employers, the guidance has increased student interaction with higher education institutions (HEIs), stating that by the age of 18, all students considering applying for university should have had at least two visits to potential HE providers to meet staff and students.  

This supports previous evidence given by NCUB to the Education Select Committee, which demonstrated that HEIs proactively provide outreach to school and college students. This meets benchmark seven of the Gatsby Good Career Guidance, ‘Encounters with further and higher education’. Delivered via formal partnerships and schemes, such as the Uni Connect programme, these interactions give young people improved awareness of the range of opportunities that exist for them.  

However, questions remain over the longevity of these partnerships, due to funding and support needs. In many instances, HEI outreach in careers advice and guidance is funded by the HEI directly, or through temporary funding schemes. NCUB members have expressed some concern about the long-term viability of these models.  

The benefits of collaboration between early years educators with both HE and workplaces to deliver careers advice and guidance are clear. Getting this right is now vital to not just student outcomes, but for plugging skills gaps in years to come. However, as the new guidance is rolled out in schools and colleges, we hope to see greater funding in place to support this collaboration.