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Setting a new vision for employer engagement

Changing the way your team approaches issues and opportunities doesn’t have to take months nor involve an army of consultants. South Tyneside College completely changed their approach to employer engagement in just one day.

South Tyneside College wanted to put more focus on employer engagement, and they wanted to tackle it quickly and effectively. Principal, Lindsey Whiterod, was keen to explore ways to involve more of her team in creative problem solving. “We needed to breathe some life into our thinking on employer engagement in the College,” explains Lindsey.

The college engaged Ignite, a leading innovation and change consultancy, to help to spark new patterns of thinking in the team and introduce a fresh way of tackling problems and opportunities. “Ignite did a large amount of background preparation for the workshop,” says Lindsey. “Their methods and tools provided inspiration and ideas for the day and we left feeling invigorated and excited about our plans.”

“The advantage of the Ignite innovation and change approach is that it is equally effective for a short, sharp intervention like this one or a large college-wide transformation,” explains Jenny McGregor, Ignite consultant. “For example, at the start of the academic year, many leadership teams just want help framing things in a different light, so that they start off on the right foot.”

“In order to help South Tyneside frame their challenge, we used the Ofsted inspection guidelines to create an initial framework which the team could measure themselves against,” says Jenny.

This helped give the team a real understanding of exactly what the generally accepted basic standard was for employer engagement. Ignite then gave the team insights into what other colleges that had rated very highly on employer engagement were doing.

“The insights exercise changed everything,” explains Jenny. “The team realised that reaching Ofsted standards was not only easily achievable, but also that it was the very least they should be aiming for. A lot of things other colleges were doing were also being done by South Tyneside but it was only happening in pockets. This really stretched people’s thinking and set a new vision for what could be accomplished.”

Using insights is an approach Ignite likes to use to help change people’s perspectives and to challenge their assumptions. “Sometimes the insights we use are closely comparable, as in this case, but abstract insights are also very effective. You’ll be amazed at the useful discussion you’ll have about teamwork and communication by looking at the behaviour of a wolf pack or a F1 pit stop crew, for example!” said Jenny.

The workshop included a creative idea-generation exercise using Ignite’s “Idea-storming” technique. This resulted in more than 100 new ideas for employer engagement in just over half an hour. The ideas were then assessed and prioritised, and the best ideas further developed and stretched.

“This is the first time I have worked with Ignite and they surpassed all my expectations. We left with a clear list of items for a refreshed employer engagement strategy and action plan,” says Lindsey.

“An important benefit of addressing challenges by involving a broader team in creative problem solving is that you are also creating a team of enthusiastic people to work on the actions afterwards,” says Jenny.

The college has already implemented a number of ideas such as creating easy to use employer engagement files throughout the college, launching a new Alumni association and appointing a senior manager to take on overall responsibility for employer engagement. Each area of the college now has its own detailed action plan tailored to the needs of the employers they cater for, and a refreshed employer engagement strategy has been drafted for the college as a whole.

Ignite is an innovation and change consultancy working across both the public and private sectors in the UK. Founded by experienced consultants Mark Long, Mark Smith and Tim Connolly, Ignite is formed from exceptionally talented people who combine highly creative thinking with robust change management to achieve exceptional results. They have built their success on an ethos of “it can be done” and the belief that every organisation has the ability to achieve extraordinary things.

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