Originally posted August 2017
We work with a lot of state departments of education, and in recent years we’ve gotten lots of requests for support on employer engagement. We’ve written an advisory committee handbook for one and have another on the way for another state; we’re creating a guide to apprenticeships for a third; we’ve done a statewide analysis for a fourth to recommend ways to increase engagement; and we’ve done employer engagement workshops for some of these and many others.
Whenever we talk with people about employer engagement through any of these channels, we keep one critical concept at the center of the conversation: Return on investment, or ROI. In fact, I often tell people that if they spend four hours with me at a workshop and walk away with nothing else but a clear understanding of ROI, then that time will have been worthwhile.
That one simple principle is the foundation of strong employer partnerships. Industry doesn’t want to work with you solely as a charitable effort: There are lots of charities in the world, and there’s no reason businesses would need to work with schools over the thousands of child-serving nonprofits out there if they just want to volunteer or make a charitable contribution. Businesses work with schools because they see a possible return on an investment of their limited resources.
What kind of ROI do they want? They want a capable workforce in the future (that’s typically our lead-in in CTE), but they also want higher employee morale right now; that means giving their employees an opportunity to work with kids, and to share the story of your work together internally. They want to do good, but they also want to be seen as doing good; that requires telling the story of your partnership to their customers and the community at large. They want to be seen as good guys with influentials like industry regulators. And on an individual level, they want not only the personal fulfillment that comes with volunteering, but also the networking, skills development and resume-building that every professional needs.
Do you know what they want most of all? They want to be asked what they want. They want to know that you’re interested in their ROI as much as your own. It’s fine to tell them what you need, but first take the time to ask them what they need. What does a great entry-level worker look like? What are they trying to accomplish as a business? What are their challenges right now? And how can a collaboration with our school or district help you meet some of your goals while at the same time helping us meet ours?
I hope you’ll take the idea of ROI to heart and apply it to your employer relationships. You’ll see results in very short order.
Brett Pawlowski is the Executive Vice President of NC3T, the National Center for College and Career Transitions (www.nc3t.com). NC3T provides planning, coaching, technical assistance and tools to help community-based leadership teams plan and implement their college-career pathway systems and strengthen employer connections with education.