The Partners We Always Forget

When people talk about finding partners, they’re either explicitly or implicitly talking about industry partners – those businesses in the area that employ students in the fields they’re studying. If your sole focus is on industry partners, you’re probably overlooking a whole host of great prospective partners that could help your students learn about various careers and prepare for the real world.

Have you thought about:

Your School and District

In many counties, K-12 education is the largest employer and handles a wide range of business functions, including food services, transportation, technology, communications, finance, and many more. Yet we often don’t think to look internally for work-based learning opportunities, even when a student is interested in something being done directly by the district.

Of course, there are still partnership negotiations to be done – people working with students will have to have time budgeted for that task, and you’ll still need to work to make it a quality experience. However, it would be shortsighted to overlook the largest employer in your area, and one in which you have an inside track.

Government agencies

Like your school or district, government agencies in your area can serve as excellent sources of WBL experiences. Many CTE programs already partner with law enforcement, fire departments, and emergency medical services for students interested in those fields. However, there are other government operations that can help to provide students with valuable career experiences. What about connecting with the courts for students interested in law? What about parks, environmental services, recreation, or public works? And what about all the office functions in every agency, are they a great fit for students interested in business?


Service learning has long been considered to be a valid source of work-based learning experiences and the development of workplace skills. Consider connecting with the nonprofits in your area, who are hungry for volunteers, and often have the flexibility to align service projects with a student’s area of concentration. As a bonus, students can connect with a cause they care about, ranging from animal shelters to food banks and beyond, while feeling that they’re making a real difference in the lives of others.


If you have a military presence in your area, you may not realize that members of the military can be enthusiastic partners, both for general support and for introducing students to life outside of the school walls. Make contact with base leadership to explore opportunities for your students to connect with service members.

While the local industry is a critically important partner, they’re not the only ones who hire in your area, and they’re not the only ones who perform many of the roles in which your students are interested in. Expand your horizons and build partnerships in entirely new areas for the benefit of your students!

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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