Partners Want to be Heard

Over the years, a lot of people have asked me the best way to engage their partners. The answer, based on my research and experience, is clear: Appeal to their expertise.

I did a survey of employers and business coalitions several years ago, and included the question: “What are you most interested in contributing as a partner?” The answer – head and shoulders above any other option – was “Expertise.” (Financial giving, you may not be surprised to learn, came in last.) That response has been confirmed, time and again, in discussions with employers over the years, as well as practical experience from projects in which employers participate.

That makes sense, of course. Like every other person on earth, your partners want to feel valued – they want to feel heard. They don’t want to feel like they’re just a checkbook to you, silently supporting you as you do the things you want in the way you want to do them. They feel (rightly so) that they are the experts on their occupations and their industry, including current practices and hiring needs, and if they’re going to get involved in your work, they want to know that your program is relevant to their needs.

So how do you ask for expertise?

Sharing expertise with students

There are all sorts of opportunities for employer partners to share their expertise with students. They can come in as guest speakers. They can judge student competitions. They can serve as consultants on student projects. They can participate in real-world challenges. They can serve as mock interviewers. They can work with students as career mentors. The list goes on and on.

Sharing content expertise with educators

As experts in their respective fields, employers are in a perfect position to help you stay current in your field and make sure your program is fully aligned with industry needs. Ask them to serve on your advisory board, and loop them into program and curriculum reviews as often as possible.

Sharing executive expertise with educators

Partners can offer expertise beyond your program area. Are you trying to raise funds? Look for a partner with fundraising expertise. Want to increase enrollment? Find a partner with experience in marketing and social media. Trying to improve school culture? Look for someone who can help with change management and cultural issues.

If you want your partners to feel “bought in” to your program, tap into their expertise – it’s the best possible foundation for building those relationships!

Brett Pawlowski is Executive Vice President of NC3T, the National Center for College and Career Transitions ( 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.

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