The Secret to Engaging Partners

Imagine that you’re an employer, and you’ve decided to take a more active role in building your workforce pipeline. You invite the lead CTE contacts from Smith High and Jones Tech to your office to meet with you so you can learn about their programs and see how you can participate.

Scenario #1

The CTE lead for Smith High comes in first. As he talks about his program, you learn that he faces huge challenges. The administration doesn’t support him. He doesn’t have enough funds. His equipment is outdated. The teachers aren’t staying up with trends. The facilities are old. The advisory board is all but inactive. He has tremendous problems and needs, and that’s why he’s so interested in getting your support.

Scenario #2

The head of CTE for Jones Tech comes in next, and you get a very different story. His program has tremendous momentum. Students are earning certifications and competing at – and winning awards at – state and national competitions. Business partners are active, including running their employer-led advisory board. And five of his students entered the field last year after graduation, earning spots with several of your key competitors.

Which school do you decide to work with?

In this scenario, the vast majority of employers are going to go with the second school. They recognize, of course, that every child has potential and deserves opportunity. But they also realize that the leadership at the first school all but guarantees failure for all involved. They’ve already decided that they can’t produce good results and have come up with a list of reasons why that’s the case. Any efforts put toward the first school will probably result in failure.

The second school, in contrast, is already succeeding, and as we all know, everybody wants to be on a winning team. They’re focused on results; they’re measuring outcomes; they have momentum. Even if you’re only one among several employer partners, you can rest assured that any support you provide to that program is going to benefit you in the short and long terms.

Focus on where you are going

So, if you’re looking for employer support, keep in mind that employers are paying close attention to the way you tell your story. Are you focused on the positives or the negatives? What kind of results are you achieving? Does this program have momentum? What is its vision for the future?

It should go without saying that you shouldn’t lie. But even a program in dire straits can have its story told well. Imagine if you were the brand-new director of a program in freefall. You can say that you know the program had a few difficult years, but that you’re there to turn it around. The kids are great; the educators have deep experience and are participating in the re-visioning; you’re pursuing new sources of funding to upgrade the facility and equipment; and that you have a vision for an award-winning program, one that’s going to result in certifications earned and many successful placements in the future. People love a comeback even more than they like joining a winning team in mid-win; show them where you’re going and give them a chance to get in on your success at the ground floor, and watch employers flock to your program!


Brett Pawlowski is Executive Vice President of the National Center for College and Career (NC3T) ( NC3T provides planning, coaching, technical assistance, and tools. These strategies help community-based leadership teams plan and implement their college-career pathway systems and strengthen employer connections with education.