How to develop vocational learning experiences

How to bring employers and students together for vocational learning experiences.

Vocational learning experiences are used for different reasons:

  • To prepare students for employment
  • To encourage students to consider the audience and client in work
  • To motivate students through realistic experiences

To help students have a vocational experience during their course, you can try and involve employers in some way. Employers can help ensure that projects are realistic and students have a work-based experience. Making links with employers can be difficult, but it is surprising how many companies are willing to support educational programmes.

Large employers

Most large companies will have a person whose responsibility within their job remit is to manage links with educational institutions. These can be approached directly with a clear outline of what it is you are looking for from them. Ideally, this would be written beforehand instead of approaching the company without any clear idea of the input you would like.

Small companies

Smaller companies and professionals are easier to approach directly through phone calls, but usually need a meeting to sit down and discuss to discuss their input. The response can be variable as their own workload varies and important deadlines during the project period might mean they cannot be constantly engaged. However, their input can be really valuable and they usually know of the wide range of forums, networking events and support available locally to education and the particular sector.

Freelance and sole traders

Attending local freelance meetings or business sector forum meetings is a great way to obtain direct contact with a large range of businesses in a single meeting. Your local council will be able to help you find these as they will each have a department dedicated to supporting local business networking. Many forums will have regular meetings that have networking and business links as their main agenda, which is ideal for course leaders or lecturers that want to make contacts. Lots of small companies attend these as a way of increasing their opportunities in the local sector, sharing experiences, outsourcing work and looking for new recruits.

Some useful links:

Federation for Industry Sector Skills and Standards:

Creative and Cultural Skills in the arts:


Help to find local Freelance groups and forums can be obtained from:


What input can employers have?

There are many ways in which employers can have an input on your course that will give students more of an insight into working as a professional in industry. Recently, at a meeting with a business partner we discussed the range of input that could potentially take place and that would benefit students. Here is a summary of those:

  • Discuss and amend projects supplied by educational establishment.
  • Supply of “live” projects that students would run alongside businesses and be able to compare and contrast.
  • Attend the College or School and pretend to be a client.
  • Guest speaking on specific case studies that business has experienced.
  • Guest speaking on specific techniques and technologies.
  • Employer reports on student work (defined by educational partner).
  • Short workshops on relevant topics.
  • Q & A on personal experiences on relevant topic, i.e. getting a job, managing role, best skills development etc.
  • Supplying further materials such as client questionnaires, workflow charts, job roles and responsibilities or company structures.
  • Visits for students to real workplaces.
  • Work experience or placements.
  • Links to further companies, employers and professionals.


Discussions with employers, freelancers and businesses

There are also ways that employers, freelancers and businesses can impact the course indirectly. By networking and making links it is possible to sit down with employers and professionals and discuss the sector in depth, identifying new directions and obstacles that they may be experiencing in the sector. Simple discussions are sometimes the most suitable method of getting input on to the programme. Employers may not be able to commit huge amounts of time to this collaboration or even visit the educational establishment, but are happy for teachers to visit them for short periods.

One of the most valuable pieces of information that employers or practitioners in creative sectors can give is feedback on their experience of breaking into the sector. They can explain what barriers students may encounter and outline key pieces of advice they would have liked to have had before embarking on a career. This guidance can be incorporated into discussions in the classroom.

Another valuable way of getting input is to ask what their experience is like of taking students on for work experience. They will be able to identify exactly what students find difficult and outline what skills they would like students to have. It is then possible to match these as close as possible within the framework of the unit structure.

In discussions, it is a good idea to take notes, to minute key points and to email these to the business partner in order to get confirmation that they are a true account of the input. This will give teachers evidence and justification of why certain delivery methods and projects have been used within the programme when presenting course evaluations to senior planners or managers.


Further Reading:

  • Cottrell, S., Skills for Success: The Personal Development Planning Handbook, Palgrave Macmillan, 2010
  • Helyer, R., The Work-Based Learning Student Handbook, Palgrave Macmillan, 2010
  • Carol Eikleberry, Career Guide for Creative and Unconventional People, Ten Speed Press, Berkely, 2007
  • Littleford, D., Halstead, J., Mulraine, C., Career Skills: Opening Doors into the Job Market, Palgrave Macmillan, 2004
  • Carter, C., Izumo, G., Career Toolkit: The Skills for Success, Prentice Hall, 2012
  • Holmes, K., What Employers Want: The Work Skills Handbook, Trotman Publishing, Lincs, 2011
Daniel Freaker Daniel Freaker Educational Consultant, Painter, Writer, Designer