One of the essential principles of good partnerships is that education and employer partners come to the table as equals. Each making an investment in the partnership, and each getting some kind of benefit in return for that investment. For some reason, educators often shortchange the value that they bring to the table. They see the value in the things that their partners contribute, but fail to see the value in their own contributions.
It’s important for schools to not only realize the value they bring to the partnership, but also make sure that their partners clearly understand that value. When business coalition leaders were asked, “What criteria do you use when selecting partners?” in a 2007 survey I conducted, 64 percent said it was important that their education partners had made a commitment to the project. Meaning some kind of real investment. And in most cases, educators are making those investments; they just need to recognize it and share the information with their partners.
Schools invest in their partnerships in a number of ways:
- Staff – Most partnerships involve staff time, whether it’s the time of teachers, counselors, or administrators (and sometimes all three). These people may be working on the clock, in which case their time is a financial investment being made by the school. They may be working on their own, in which case they are making a personal investment. In either case, their time has value and this should be recognized.
- Facilities – If partnership events happen on school grounds, such as in the classroom, the auditorium, or the gym, there is a value associated with that space. Just as if you had to rent space elsewhere to host such events. This includes not only the space itself but also services, such as security and janitorial services.
- Inclusion in the curriculum – Surprisingly, a great number of business partnerships happen outside of school, either after-hours and/or off-site. Finding meaningful ways of including partnership activities within the curriculum, such as attaching a grade to a team-based partnership project or allowing class time for mentoring activities, adds value to the initiative in the eyes of your partner.
- Expertise – Most businesspeople recognize that they don’t have a background in instruction or curriculum design. Your school, district, or state-level staff can add value to a project by sharing their instructional expertise to the design and implementation of a project.
- Transportation – If a partnership requires sponsored transportation, such as taking students on a local site visit or across the state for a competition, schools often provide vehicles and cover the costs of a driver and fuel.
- Paperwork – In many partnerships, some level of paperwork is required, a responsibility usually assumed by the school partners. One example would be background checks, which most schools require before adults have direct contact with students; another example would be a written application for use of school facilities.
- Parent outreach – Schools have a direct pipeline to parents, and can solicit support for programs. Particularly those that take place off-site or after school and require extra commitment from parents in the form of costs or transportation requirements. Schools can also handle administrative details like distributing and collecting permission slips and liability waivers.
- Access to other partners – It’s likely that the business partner you’re currently talking to isn’t your only partner. In fact, you may have other relationships, perhaps with postsecondary institutions or nonprofit organizations (ex: mentoring associations, community service groups) who could be valuable additions to the partnership ideas you’re discussing, allowing you to play a “connector” role.
- Access to data – It’s very difficult for external partners to get good data on student outcomes through partnership initiatives. Your school or district may be able to access data that allows you and your partners to better track the progress of student participants (while honoring all confidentiality policies and laws of course).
- Partner benefits – Many schools recognize their business partners with banners and mentions in their e-newsletters; this is valuable for your partners, as is the ability to connect them at a professional level with your other partners. Businesspeople who sit on advisory boards, for example, benefit greatly from the networking opportunities that board meetings provide.
There may be other contributions that schools can make to partnerships, but these constitute some of the more common ones; consider these and others as you catalog the ways in which you’re supporting your partnership efforts.
Interested in learning more about building strong and sustainable employer partnerships? Take this one-hour free online course, Finding and Engaging Employers, and order a copy of the Employer Engagement Toolkit!
Brett Pawlowski is Executive Vice President of the National Center for College and Career (NC3T)
(www.nc3t.com). 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.