This article explores the aspects of employer engagement in higher education (HE). The vocational field of the adventure and outdoor industry provides the context, with associated undergraduate degrees offering contemporary ‘real-world’ provision, underpinned by values of inclusivity and widening participation – an approach that addresses issues high on the government and HE agendas and of which employer engagement is an integral part. The field also reflects the evolution of modern vocational degree programmes and the tensions that persist between ‘traditional’ and ‘non-traditional’ provision alongside changing industry demands. In a constantly changing global, political and social environment, UK universities are under increasing pressure from government to strengthen university–employer cooperation. This article examines key factors that universities, industry and government should consider when advocating real-world learning and the potential of employer engagement, including the powerful influence of the ‘student’ perspective and demands for a high-quality experience and satisfaction in terms of career preparation.