Engaging employers is an essential, yet also the most challenging part of designing and delivering career training. If your institution has strong collaborations with companies and/or well-functioning ALUMNI activities, you can build upon them. Otherwise, be prepared that getting employers on board might be a quite demanding task - but the one that is worth the effort. It also requires that you start building your network on contacts – through participation in the sectoral events, joining the Linked groups or other channels.
There are multiple ways how to engage employers. In CARLliS project we used the following:
Engaging employers in the programme design
Approaching employers already at this point might create a good entry point for further collaboration. It can be done in a very structured way as an expert interview or informally - e. g. as a conversation during the coffee break at the conference visited by companies. Talk to representatives of companies about their experience with working in industry or employing PhD graduates. Ask them what skills they look for. Share with them that you plan to launch this type of training and ask them if they would be interested to contribute.
Engaging employers in the training delivery
PhD student appreciate the opportunity to discuss career beyond academia with those having the experience. Include the career talks in different courses – they can fit in well in training on commercialisation as well as in the workshop on career paths in academia and many others. It is not inevitable to have a panel – a conversation with one person may allow for more in-depth approach a leaves more space for questions from PhD students. Involving HR professionals from the private sector adds value too, especially in case of activities such as mock interviews. When searching for the HR person, make sure that their company has and experience with recruiting PhDs as they are better aware of the skills this target group can offer.
Organising networking event for PhD students and employers
An ideal way how to provide the students with an opportunity to explore multiple career paths is to put them in touch with multiple employers. Career fairs and similar formats are therefore getting increasingly popular. Regardless of whether they have a form of informal networking or more structured career fairs and matchmaking events, the most challenging part of organising them will be getting employers on board – especially when you are looking only for employers offering opportunities suitable for PhD graduates.
How we did it in the CARLIS project:
Part of the CARLiS project was a matchmaking event attached to the final conference of the project. The event combined different activities:
What we have learnt during the organisation and would like to share:
The overall organisation of the event from the initial concept to the “Day D” took over more six months.
The most time-consuming task was a recruitment of employers. The most effective way of recruiting this category of participants was through direct contact (personalised invitations, visiting events with companies, direct calling) explaining them individually what the added value for them would be. This task might become less demanding once you have a strong network of contacts and track-record of collaboration.
We were more successful in recruiting small and medium companies than the large ones. This can be linked to the specifics of the sector in the region (there are not many large companies with R&D component in the life-sciences in Bratislava). Nevertheless, when approaching large companies, consider long approval processes your invitation has to come through and approach them soon enough (possibly, as soon as you have the date and the first concept)
Invest into the tailored communication. Although they will all participate in the same event, expectations of and benefits for PhD students and employers will be quite different. Consider this when drafting the information materials and invitations. The message for each target group should be clear and concise.
Allow for multiple forms of networking: if the event is discipline specific, many people participating might wish meeting other companies or stakeholders. Highlight this opportunity and provide the time and space for such meetings.
Management of expectations is crucial: based on the communication with employers we knew that some of them could currently not offer the job opportunities, but they would still be interested in meeting PhD students. We therefore explicitly communicated to both employers and PhD students that they should be open to discussions about various forms of collaborations.
If you want to learn more about the tips for organising similar events also check the ReBeCA (Researchers Beyond Academia) toolkit