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Volunteers from an ABCN member company mentoring students during an ‘Innovate’ program. Image ©Australian Business and Community Network.

Exploring attitudes towards school engagement with business

Educators see business having a critical role to play as a partner to support Australian students, research shows.

The Australian Business and Community Network (ABCN), a not-for-profit organisation bringing together business and school in low socioeconomic status (SES) areas, commissioned ACER to survey schools about their attitudes towards engagement with business.

The purpose of the surveys was to examine what Australian schools would like from business, and what types of school–business interaction could be most beneficial to schools to act as a guide to businesses considering engagement with schools.

Two separate surveys were conducted, one in 2018 for schools already engaged with the ABCN (ABCN schools) and another survey in 2019 for a sample of government schools in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria that were not involved with ABCN (Sample schools). Survey responses were received from 174 ABCN schools and 82 Sample schools.

The research found that 98 per cent of ABCN schools and 96 per cent of Sample schools were engaged with business at the time of the survey. As shown in Table 1, the most common ways that schools engaged with business were through work experience, vocational placements, and career talks, speakers and fairs. Mentoring programs were frequently used in ABCN schools, but less so in Sample schools.

Table 1: Types of engagement between schools and business

Type of engagement ABCN schools (2018) % Sample schools (2019) %
Work experience 81 97
Vocational placements 72 79
Career talks, speakers and fairs 81 92
Mentoring of students by people from business 79 41
Skill development workshops 52 38
Workplace visits 67 66
Enterprise/competition coaching 18 23
Teacher development 36 49
Cases from business that link to curriculum 31 34
Sponsorship 25 30
STEM-focused programs 58 45

The research reveals that schools are trying for breadth and depth in their engagement with business: breadth through activities like careers talks that reach high numbers of students but lightly, and depth through personalised targeted interventions such as mentoring and work experience. Many schools are happy to contemplate a wide array of engagement with business.

Unsurprisingly, both ABCN schools and Sample schools focused their engagement on students in Year 10, the year level at which young people must choose a pathway to school completion. Just seven per cent of Sample schools and 16 percent of ABCN schools had Year 7 as a focus.

Schools’ reasons for wanting to engage with business varied, but included increasing students’ engagement with learning, building student awareness and aspirations about potential careers, and developing students’ ‘future work’ capabilities and understanding of future work environments. Schools with limited engagement with business were more likely to focus on ‘hard’ skills; those with a deeper engagement also focus on ‘soft’ skills vital for the constantly changing world of work.

More than 90 per cent of the schools surveyed want to expand or enhance their current engagement with business. The most common areas that schools want to expand or enhance were related to mentoring (desired by 75% of schools), work experience (75%), workplace visits (73%), and career talks, speakers and fairs (70%).

Respondents in both groups were given the opportunity to provide open comments about what has surprised them about their engagement with business. Schools were positive about how willing businesses are to support young people and about the impact such support has on their students. One word commonly used to describe businesses was ‘generosity’. Of the small percentage of respondents who offered negative comments, the general issue was the presumed lack of understanding about how schools operate under various curriculum requirements, particularly class hours to meet senior secondary certificates.

The difference between responses from ABCN schools in 2018 and responses from the sample schools in 2019 indicate the value of the work of school–business brokers. That value is in assisting schools to understand what opportunities are available from engagement with business, and providing a wide range of these opportunities. ■

Read the full report:
What Do Schools Want from Engagement with Business? by Sheldon Rothman, Australian Council for Educational Research, 2019.

RD

About the author

Dr Sheldon Rothman is a Principal Research Fellow in ACER's Educational Monitoring and Research division. 

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