Engaging Business Development Contacts and Employer Forums in the Assessment Process

HNC Construction students at East Surrey College (ESC) in 2018/19 undertook a project unit focused on Changing Technologies in the Construction Industry. They needed to identify appropriate information and analyse it to formulate clear results or recommendations which is required to underpin many of the processes that inform construction projects as per the assessment brief. “The presentation will take place in front of a selected audience of Construction Staff and representatives of the College’s Construction Employers Forum. Your presentation must utilise industry standard software and will present your final project outcomes and recommendations.” Students, where possible, were encouraged to apply the task to their own workplace or work experiences which goes towards meeting the needs of employers (AoC, 2015; King et al, 2015).

Based in an auditorium, students each had 15 minutes to present (10 minutes plus 5 minutes’ question and answer) to an assessment panel of academic staff and managerial staff members from regional employers. Topics ranged from Structurally Insulated Panels, Modular Buildings, The Use of Drones in Surveying, Building Information Modelling (BIM), and the Use of Virtual and Augmented Reality in Construction. The project had to seek to provide a solution to an identified problem and not merely provide a general review or description.

George Beach, Lecturer in Built Environment said “Employer engagement has a key role in enhancing teaching and learning, in this case employers in the classroom. The real life scenarios on HNCs really benefit students. Employers too get to input to the experience of the students they sponsor and others.” ESC used its Business Development contacts and existing construction employer forum to approach companies in regard to supplying staff representatives.

There is, of course, the expectation that providers work “in partnership with other organisations” (QAA, 2018: 3) and these presentations offer an opportunity to further reinforce those relationships which is critical to student employment. Terry Downham, Business Development Account Manager commented that employers considered that “all the presentations were relevant, up to date and informative and they had learnt something new themselves” so as well as student development, tri-partite events such as this offer opportunity to transfer knowledge and adapt both academic and workplace practice which in turn makes education more responsive to industry (Arias et al, 2018). This culture of scholarship though knowledge-exchange with employers (Simmons and Lea, 2013) promotes new intellectual understanding from the act of application (Boyer, 1990/2016).

Whilst the employers did not summatively assess the students directly, they provided a real world “formative” environment in which tutor assessment could take place. They were, however, encouraged to complete proformas which informed the assessor and provided the opportunity for “feedback and critical commentary” (QAA, 2018: 9). Also, as sponsors of some of the students, they gained a valuable insight into the educational experience their staff were experiencing, and which they were helping to fund.

The proforma invited employers to score the presenter from 1 to 5 on (1) Presentation Content (Overview Given; Identifying Critical Concepts; Explanation of Technical Issues; Organisation and Flow; Summary, Conclusions and Critique) and (2) Presentation Delivery/Format (Eye Contact, Voice and Gestures; Handling of Questions; Visual Aids; Time Management; Manner, Fluency, Enthusiasm and Confidence).

Barry Andrewes, EHS Advisor for Airport Facilities (Gatwick) Limited was “impressed with the hospitality shown, the college building layout and envy the students the quality of the facilities at their disposal.” He was also “impressed by the quality of the presenters” and that the “students were both informative and able to communicate well during the Q&A sessions.” He went on to say that his organisation has staff currently taking apprenticeships and that “It would be great see them in a similar position once they reach the HNC level themselves.”

Michael Dunne, Assistant Project Manager for John Sisk & Son Ltd considered that “From an employer’s perspective it was great to see that all of the hard work put in by the students has paid off. Students were challenged by the panel’s questions and provided excellent and articulate responses”. Senior Contracts Manager Tim Parker from T & B Contractors recognised that this was “An excellent learning opportunity for all including the judging panel!”

Looking to the following year, ESC plans to expand the session into a one day HE STEM Projects Event to encompass other programmes as well. This will provide space for presentations, displays and demonstrations. This will allow employers and other stakeholders to engage with students and their assessment, alongside corporate hospitality and relationship building.


George Beach, Lecturer in Built Environment gbeach@esc.ac.uk

Terry Downham, Business Development Account Manager tdownham@esc.ac.uk

Jacky Brewer, Scholarship and Enhancement Manager jbrewer@esc.ac.uk

Richard Pearce, Director of HE rpearce@esc.ac.uk


Arias, B., Beseda, J., Davy, N., Frankenberg, Hudak, R., Jacobs, K., van der Mosselaer, H., Saraswat, A. and Zaraga, J. (2018) BEEHiVES: Implementation and Mainstreaming Guidelines for the Strategic Triangle. Available: https://beehives.de/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Output-4-Implementation-and-Mainstreaming-Guidelines.pdf (Accessed 12/09/19)

[AoC] Association of Colleges (2015) How to build from ‘Breaking the Mould’ – making technical and professional education a reality – the next steps. Association of Colleges.

Boyer, E. (1990/2016) Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate.The Carnegie Foundation for the advancement of Teaching. Jossey-Bass: San Francisco.

King, M., Saraswat, A. and Widdowson, J. (2015) The experiences of students studying higher education on a part time basis in English further education colleges. Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning. Vol. 5. Iss 1 pp. 63-73

Simmons, J. and Lea, J. (2013) Capturing an HE ethos in college higher education practice. Available: https://www.thescholarshipframework.co.uk/resources/capturing-he-ethos-college-higher-education-practice (Accessed 12/09/16)

[QAA] The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (2018) The Revised UK Quality Code UK Quality Code for Higher Education. UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment.