A few years ago, I worked with a district to better connect with area employers. There were multiple components to the strategy, but one of the most powerful was to connect employers to what was being taught.
We set up face-to-face meetings (which, admittedly, may be tougher to do these days) between educators and some of the employers within their sectors. The meetings happened in two parts: First, we had conversations about what types of positions they hire for, and what knowledge and skills a great candidate should have. Next, we took that profile, walked through the course sequence and instructional areas of focus, and asked what made sense and what didn’t.
The first part was really helpful on its own: Educators got to hear directly from employers what their students need to be able to do in order to have a good shot at a job. Admittedly, the process took some time, including working with employers to more specifically identify what they need. In a culinary group, for example, a restaurant owner who hires chefs was asked what a great chef candidate would look like, and he simply said that they should know how to cook! With some prodding we were able to get some great, specific information, such as the need to know the five mother sauces, have strong knife skills, and the like.
Next, we walked them through the instructional sequence: What we covered and how it was taught. We asked them which parts we should emphasize, what were the current and emerging practices in industry, and what was missing.
The key, however – what made this exercise valuable, and what turned many of these employers into invested partners – is that the educators took this information to heart, revised their programs based on what they had heard, and followed up with the employers to tell them how instruction was changing thanks to their feedback. The employers knew that their input had been heard and taken seriously, allowing them to feel some sense of ownership for the program. They therefore began to feel a responsibility to help the program succeed, creating an opportunity to talk with them about exactly how they could do that.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen big efforts to engage employers – meetings, forums, open houses – where employers are asked to commit to supporting the schools, and then don’t hear anything for six months or more (or ever!). It’s frustrating for employers, who had been primed to help and then ignored, and as a result it’s going to be harder to engage them the next time. Avoid that common error: don’t start with grand yet vague promises, start instead with something very specific and follow up on it. You’ll see your employer engagement efforts become remarkably effective.
Brett Pawlowski is 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.