Home | News & Insights | 2022 | Career Partnerships: Meeting labour market demands with bespoke employer - training provider agreements

Career Partnerships: Meeting labour market demands with bespoke employer - training provider agreements


How can we connect more communities in the Cambridge city region to the jobs being created across our world-leading industries?

This is one of the core ambitions of Cambridge Ahead as it is intrinsic to making the future growth of our city being more inclusive. There are significant barriers to overcome in fully reaching this ambition, but our research into career partnerships leads us to believe that they can make a meaningful and tangible contribution in Cambridge, particularly when considering the role of FE colleges that reach a diverse range of communities and individuals from our city region.

In the context of increasing labour market challenges being faced by local employers – career partnerships offer a real win-win in creating a more secure and stable pipeline of homegrown talent that in turn spreads opportunity and prosperity across our city’s communities.

What is a Career Partnership and what are the benefits?

Career Partnerships describe bespoke, long-term agreements between companies (or groups of companies) and training providers. They might even comprise a three-way partnership between a further education provider, independent training provider and employer.

Career Partnerships are designed to a) meet labour market demands by curating groups of work-ready education leavers for companies to employ, b) offer pathways for students into careers, and c) foster a relationship of understanding and trust between an employer and trainee at an early stage.

There are several benefits of Career Partnerships. Primarily, they allow employers to sure-up their labour supply chain and more quickly and easily select candidates to join their workforce. In some partnerships, employers can influence the content of the training course to ensure that potential candidates have the right skills to join the organisation. From the training providers’ perspective, Career Partnerships embed opportunity for their students and therefore support the uptake of particular courses. Employer engagement with students gives them exposure to a post-education career path.

The intention is to make taking a vocational route more attractive, and therefore increase the supply of candidates and potential workforce for local companies.

Sounds great… but how does one create a Career Partnership, and what are the responsibilities?

Each partnership is unique. However, what underpins them all is long-term relationship between the skills provider and company, or group of companies, that is built on trust and mutual understanding. Trusting relationships are essential, so that the needs and working practices of each party is understood and accommodated for.

These Partnerships also rely on clear understandings of the commitments and responsibilities of each party, which are drawn up into a formal agreement or Memorandum of Understanding. The contents of such agreements depend on the objectives of both training provider and employer.

These commitments might include:

  • company access to students on a particular curriculum
  • using the company’s branding to encourage the uptake of a particular subject
  • commitment to student ‘tour days’ at the company
  • provision of teaching and learning materials by the company
  • commitment to employability up-skilling by the training provider (e.g., interview practice)
  • giving ‘first choice’ opportunities to companies to find and reach out to candidates for job roles.

… but what are some of the challenges of Career Partnerships?

They can take some time to set up, and it can be particularly challenging for these agreements to be set up with larger organisations who typically have more complex decision-making structures.

Operationally, Career Partnerships require that the training provider work with different departments in companies, and this can take time to coordinate. For example, whilst HR might lead the establishment and running of the Partnership, coordination with a technical branch of a company may be necessary in arranging e.g., tour days or training materials. We therefore suggest having a lead point of contact on each side to ensure consistent communication and planning.

To honour commitments to give career advice in schools, employees must be given time by their employers to go into schools during their normal working hours.

OK – let’s see an example of where this partnership has worked locally:

Anglian Water Alliances
Anglian Water started a collaboration with the College of West Anglia, to see if they could work together and sponsor some courses relevant to their business. They started by offering to sponsor two full time City & Guilds courses: one in engineering and one in construction operations.

From these courses Anglian Water then took the collaboration a stage further. On successful completion of their course, young people are offered a guaranteed interview with an Anglian Water Alliance Partner and, if they are successful at interview, an apprenticeship placement with the potential to then go onto full time employment within Anglian Water Alliances.

The programme allows Anglian Water and their partners to not only upskill young people and give them opportunities they may not have had, but also to invest back into local communities. In turn it also helps encourage young people into a business they may not have previously considered, allowing them to learn and develop their knowledge and skills from a young age. It helps Anglian Water to fill a skills gap in an industry that has an ageing work force.

Having proved the success of the programme, they are now expanding into other areas in the region where there is a need for employment opportunities – now working with three other colleges: West Suffolk College, Milton Keynes College, and the Grimsby Institute. In total, Anglian Water Alliances have employed over one hundred apprentices to date and plan to grow this number over the next few years.

Cambridge Regional College
CRC is a real advocate of Career Partnerships and has seen first-hand the benefit of close collaborations between the college and regional employers. 

The College currently has two Career partners and is in discussion with two further employers looking to collaborate. The first to join forces with CRC was Cambridge University Hospitals who help to shape the curriculum, offer work placements and industry talks helping CRC to ensure their students are ready for an excellent career in the healthcare sector.

“Career readiness is a key priority for us at CRC”, said Michelle Dowse, Deputy Principal. “We ensure that our students gain the professional and technical skills needed for their next step as well as the employability skills needed by employers such as communications skills, problem solving, innovation, and digital skills alongside behaviours such as enthusiasm and self-motivation. Our Career Partnerships enable us to identify common goals with employers in the region and work together to secure positive outcomes, both for students and for their businesses.”

Arm Education, part of the technology company Arm, is the latest employer to agree a partnership following a conversation after a Cambridge Ahead skills meeting. Together CRC and Arm Education are looking to raise awareness of career opportunities in the computing technology sector to attract and nurture new talent. Arm Education is also supporting curriculum development and providing access to teaching & learning materials.  

The latest discussions are with employers looking to donate their products to CRC to enable students to train using their equipment, and from a sector leading company looking to work with students to develop a new talent pipeline ready to join their business when their college courses are complete.

Michelle said: “At CRC we are preparing our students for successful careers either straight from college or after higher education. To do this, we collaborate with employers who help ensure that what we teach meets the needs of industry. Our collaborative work with over a thousand employers as well as our hugely successful Career Partnerships helps to prepare students to enter the work of work, equipped and ready to make a difference.”


Written by Matilda Becker,
Policy and Research Officer Matilda@cambridgeahead.co.uk


07548 832 833


Sarah Brereton, Director, Limewash
07796 583 223

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