We run networking sessions on an annual basis for our Pearson BTEC Higher National centres to share good practice and learn from each other. Our most recent sessions focused on industry engagement, where we asked centres around the world to showcase how they have worked with organisations to better student experience and outcomes. Read on to explore some of the key highlights from Belfast Metropolitan College (Belfast Met) in Northern Ireland.

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What is industry engagement and why is it important?

People really value the HNDs. I always find this as very true - our students end up having better practical and technical skills…. There is a lot of latent demand for students with HNDs…. These HNDs are rated very highly, so it’s important that we engage with industry, because industry needs students with these qualifications.
- Lynsey Alphonso, Lecturer in Chemistry with Biology at Belfast Metropolitan College.

Higher Nationals are career-focused qualifications, with industry involvement throughout the development process; we understand that it is vital to include practicing experts at every stage of our qualification development process, including unit writing, review and validation.

However, it’s also key to continue to engage with industry throughout the teaching and learning process to meet employability needs and enable learners to develop professional and technical skills for the workplace. This engagement can often mean something different to different stakeholders, and it’s important to note that it covers a broad spectrum of activity.

Centres and associates

Projects to meet client needs

Belfast Met are key advocates of student project work, working directly with employers. The model that the college uses is to work with innovation vouchers, funded by the government department, which are similar to knowledge transfer partnerships. 

A client (industry partner) identifies a need within their market, and then approaches an education institution to work together. Belfast Met works with the client to prepare an innovation plan and funding application, which the college stipulates that students must be involved with, to enable their learning and help build up a solid relationship with the client.  

Clients and students then work together over a period of time to plan, develop and launch new product initiatives. This gives students knowledge and experience in areas such as technical work, project management and finance, as well as other transferable skills such as teamwork and communication. 

It’s beneficial to use real-world examples in project work, as it helps to engage students further and can often provide motivation and a sense of responsibility. It’s even better when this can be aligned to a learning outcome and assessment, therefore helping the student achieve their final grade. Belfast Met has had great success with these initiatives; in one of their client projects, students involved were offered jobs with that organisation upon graduation.

Further ways to engage

Projects are a great example of how students can gain sector-specific experience, however there are many other ways to engage with industry – different initiatives will work best across different sectors, regions and centres. There were several other ideas for engagement that were discussed during the network sessions:

  • Offer talks or teaching from experts – this can work even better if you can find somebody that has completed an HND. Today’s virtual world also makes it easier to engage with employers across the country
  • Visit employers - provide students with an opportunity to visit organisations and observe demonstrations face-to-face.
  • Involve employers in events - whether this is through online webinars, careers fairs, recruitment talks, annual conferences etc. 
  • Network! Both with employers and former students – relationships take time to build, but can bring so many rewards.
  • Keep up to date - with both staff upskilling in the sector, and with the relevant equipment and materials being used by industry. This knowledge will then be passed on to students through the teachers.
  • Set up a mentoring scheme - linking students with representatives from industry, to support their personal and professional growth 
  • Work experience - promote and facilitate work experience and internships, and incorporate it into your curriculum. 

Successful outcomes

There is no right or wrong way for education to engage with industry, however it’s clear from conversations that we have at Pearson, that there is a desire, from both sides, to do more.

Whilst engaging with industry inevitably comes with some challenges, Belfast Met have found that these are far outweighed by the benefits, to both the teaching and learning experience at the college. Ultimately, any initiatives must have the students at heart; it has to be for their benefit, and students should be encouraged to cite the experience when applying for jobs or further education.

One of the recommendations from Belfast Met is for colleges to really understand the local employer market, which can help to identify needs or opportunities that students can support with. In turn, this should then help to build relationships with employers, and raise awareness of the pool of Higher National graduates locally.

Have you got ideas for good practice with industry? Get in touch – we’d love to hear from you!