12 Key Tactics to Forge Lasting Employer Links in Further Education

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One of the countless benefits of working closely with our many college partners (over 100 at the last count!) is we benefit from the collective wisdom they share around a wide range of topics. Employer Engagement is very high on the agenda for many of them.

So, using their experiences and our own, we’ve put together a simple guide providing twelve essential tactics that will help you develop more sustainable relationships with your employer network, whilst also helping you increase the number and breadth of your engagements.

Do you ever wonder if your current efforts to connect with your network of local employers – so important to the college – are as effective as they could be?

It’s probably an unfair question yet perfecting this requires a blend of insight, persistence and skill, ensuring you create not just contacts, but valuable long-term partnerships that will benefit your students and the broader community. Let’s explore these tactics together and set your institution apart as a leader in education-industry collaboration.

1. Develop your strategy

Whether you’re kicking off a new strategy or building on what you’ve done in past years, it’s important to get a clear picture of where things stand, right now. Using tools like an Impact Matrix, SWOT analysis, and looking back at your efforts from the last 12-24 months can shed light on key areas:

  • Do you need to work with more employers?
  • Should you strengthen your existing relationships with employers?

If you want to grow your network, a tangible first step may be identifying important contacts within organisations. Make a list of the key job roles you should be trying to gather e.g. HR Directors, Learning and Development Managers, and Heads of Recruitment. Don’t overlook folks in charge of community outreach, early careers, skills development, or education engagement. Also, connecting with people who supervise your apprentices might offer a direct link into the company.

Define two or three clear goals for engaging with employers, aligning them with your overall business aims. Use these goals to steer your communication and outreach.

2. Understand your starting point with each employer partner and potential partner

Be intentional, and check what you already know about each employer you are going to contact.

Develop a template that allows you to gauge your level of understanding against what you need to know, for example:

  • Who are the key people in the organisation?
  • What ‘job titles’ do we need to know?
  • What is their history with your college?
  • What potential services or types of students can the college offer them and what can they offer the college?

By creating this template, you will gain clarity on gaps you have: an important step before your next engagement with them.

3. Create a great list of all the genuine value that your college and your students can offer to your employer network

As an example, collaborate with Curriculum Area Leads to understand the skills your students acquire in college. Communicate these skills to employers, emphasising their value.

Sometimes we forget how much an employer can benefit from a close relationship with their local college – the number of ways you can help them is always a longer list than you might think! Take the time to workshop this internally and then be excited at how much they can benefit by working more closely with the college.

4. Take your time: the best relationships tend to start slowly but meaningfully

Once you’ve established your ‘wish list’ in terms of what you want to find out from each employer AND you’re clear about what you can offer them, it will become obvious that you cannot share all this information in your first encounter or meeting with them.

Start realistically and have a simple objective around creating the right foundations for the relationship before potentially overwhelming them with all you have to offer.

Remember too that businesses aren’t bound by academic years, meaning their financial and budget years can vary. Market conditions, investment, and staff turnover may mean their needs fluctuate wildly from one quarter to another, so, slow but steady contact is as helpful to them as it is to you.

Given these changes, regular, informal contact can prevent you from missing crucial opportunities. 

5. Learn to listen, and listen to learn

Sometimes we’re in such a hurry to share all the potential that our college and students offer, that we jump at the first chance to talk, talk, talk.

Needless to say, whilst we’re talking our capacity to learn is hugely compromised. Each business is unique but there may be common industry challenges, perhaps the same as your own or very different.

Asking insightful questions without feeling the urge to respond immediately helps us understand their situation and challenges more clearly. Just as crucially, it shows genuine interest in them – a prerequisite for developing a long-lasting relationship. Be excited at the opportunity to learn more about them!

The more you learn, the more you can tailor your outreach approach and messages to other employers, pinpointing the challenges you’ve learnt they’re likely facing.

6. Invest time to analyse your successes and your learning opportunities

Compile reliable and quantitative data to determine which events and forums result in the most useful connections for your college.

While a busy diary of events might feel reassuring (‘I’ll pick up enough leads in total, right…?’), quality interactions at the right events and building deeper relationships with a select group of employers are far more valuable than superficial connections.

7. Stir up a sense of missing out

Create ‘FOMO’ (Fear of Missing Out) by sharing your employers’ successes with others in their sector via showcase events.  (Of course, this doesn’t mean breaking any confidentiality, it means sharing how their relationship with your college is reaping benefits for them).

When we see others succeeding, we naturally want to keep pace. If I told you the college down the road worked with 30% more local employers than you do, you’d want to find out how and use their strategies to remain competitive. Well, you can evoke the same feeling of aspiration and intrigue with prospective employers by showcasing businesses in similar industries. Make it clear how businesses have benefited as a result of partnering with your college. 

With the added benefit of free promotion for the employer (if you shout about the showcase on LinkedIn etc.) they may well jump at the opportunity you are offering them. This can be a smart way to provide social proof that businesses should engage with your college.

8. Promote student success stories

Students are, of course, the lifeblood of the college and their achievements are a direct reflection of the college. This should be celebrated and shared as loudly as possible!

You’ll no doubt be posting updates on your website, but there are other ways to exploit the value of these success stories.

  • Could you ask alumni to share their journey at an employer event?
  • Could you invite a former apprentice to do similar? 

Experience shows that former students and apprentices really enjoy sharing their stories, particularly if you’ve given them a sensible template of topics to follow.

Use their testimonials to paint a vivid, compelling picture to prospective employers.

9. Demonstrably act in your employer interests as well as your own

Frantically pushing your services at employers before you know anything about their business and goals can be off-putting (see Tip 4). For example, by taking the time to find out which skills your prospective employers may be looking for in your students (this should form part of your templated list in Tip 2) you are then well placed to judge whether your student cohort has these.

If you decide they don’t, be prepared to say so and move on, for now. Choosing to delay pushing your students to an employer for these reasons generates trust as it’s clear you’re acting in their interests. You can’t be everything to every employer so don’t try. Nurture the relationship and be sure to update the employer if these skills are subsequently incorporated by the students.

Taking a consultative approach to highlight available skills and being an expert, non-pushy advisor to employers means they will trust your expertise and call on you for advice in the future. This lays the foundation for a long-lasting relationship, forged in the understanding you are here to help them find the best skills for their business.

10. ABC – Always Be Curious

Keep researching other colleges to ensure you are ready to benefit from others who have gone before you. OK, you might not want to replicate what colleges in the local area do as you may technically compete for employer attention. But, if you’re in Cornwall for example, what are colleges in Birmingham doing? Can your college in Essex learn from those in the Midlands?

Invest in your own development by peer learning through webinars, joining appropriate networking groups, and attending conferences.

11. Ensure you have information at your fingertips

Respond promptly to enquiries by having a clear view of your data, preferably in a single place: reliable communication builds credibility, and dependability is essential. Leverage data to track the success rates of previous engagement efforts. Metrics such as employment rates of graduates, employer satisfaction scores, and student feedback on work placements are powerful in proving the benefits of engaging with your college to potential partners.

Consider implementing a CRM system designed with colleges, for colleges.

(Grofar can help here, for sure!). This will be a game-changer in how you manage relationships with employers. Imagine you and your colleagues navigating each busy term with confidence, supported by tools that enhance productivity rather than complicate it.

And, because the Grofar College CRM incorporates the Grofar WEX CRM, colleges using both get a single database that brings you clarity and helps every staff member achieve a shared understanding of all employer interactions. The system enhances team coordination by sharing real-time updates and information, ensuring everyone is on the same page.

With this tailored CRM, you can quickly retrieve past interactions, gauge employer preferences, and keep communications streamlined. 

12. Stay informed and adapt

When you’ve done all the above, get ready for change. It will take work, but it’s worth it. For example, you may have sent an email campaign three times – is it time for a refresh? Are your student and employer testimonials current and relevant?  

Even if your strategy worked brilliantly last year, make sure you don’t stagnate.

The path to enhanced employer engagement doesn’t end here. Discover how our tailored CRM solutions can make a substantial difference to you. Book a personalised demo or join our next webinar where we will focus on developing confidence in the initial stages of new relationships. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to elevate your strategies—contact us now to advance your institution’s goals.