Employer Engagement

Employer Engagement in Career Pathways

Quick Start: Print out these three desk resources for at-hand tips and strategies on engaging employers in the workforce development system:

Access the ProLiteracy Workplace Guide for sample scripts, employer surveys, questions to ask, and a timeline for developing a workplace project with employer buy-in.

Introduction to the Resource 

This resource has been developed by the Virginia Adult Learning Resource Center (VALRC) as part of Virginia’s SNAP E&T Grant pilot project. The content is intended to be used as technical assistance for career coaches, instructors, and other staff working with adult learners to engage with employers in three stages of the workforce development process: in planning a program, in the implementation of the program, and in employment placement for clients.

Employer Engagement in Three Phases: Planning, Implementation, and Placement

The tips and strategies featured in this resource fall into two broad categories:

  1. Tips for engaging employers in the planning and implementation of career pathways programs, and
  2. Tips for successful job placements, including interviewing tips for clients.

In combination with these strategies, working closely with your local One-Stop Centers and using up-to-date Labor Market Information to plan programs will help develop more seamless transitions between training and employment for your clients.

One-Stop Centers

To begin, contact your local One-Stop Center about their job placement resources and business partners; they may have direct relationships with employers who can work with your clients.

One-Stop centers provide resources for job searching and improving professional skills. Sixty-five centers are open across Virginia. Use this document to find a One-Stop Center close to you; it lists both Comprehensive and Affiliate sites. Both types of sites provide self-service job search assistance and referrals; however, comprehensive sites also offer individualized career services and on-site access to partner program services.

Tips and Strategies for Engaging Employers in Adult Career Pathways

  • Successful workforce development programs involve partnerships with local and regional employers that ensure a “dual customer” approach where both employers and jobseekers benefit from job preparation and placements.
  • Building a constructive partnership with employers requires a change in mindset, one that rejects the notion that we as educators are asking for charity from employers in considering hiring our learners and instead recognizes that we are offering “value-added services to employers” (NVTAC, 2017).

Summary: Tips and Strategies for Engaging Employers

Below is a summary of tips and strategies for engaging employers to both participate in the development of career pathways programs and to participate in the job-placement activities of the learners who complete those programs.

Click here for a pdf version of these tips and strategies.

1.Understand the Needs of Local Employers

  • Research the needs of local businesses, focusing on hiring needs and skills gaps [See the section below on Labor Market Data.]
  • Know what jobs are available and what skills are needed to fill them.
  • Know what challenges employers face in finding and retaining qualified workers.
  • Learn to speak in the business’ language to make the case for your program as a value-added service. Avoid portraying your program as a charity.

For example, instead of saying,

“We are a nonprofit dedicated to serving veterans who experience homelessness by helping them find meaningful employment. I’m calling to help find them jobs.”

Reword to say something to the effect of,

“We find high-quality, entry-level workers for area employers at no charge. During the past year we’ve put 300 veterans to work at companies like yours. How can we help you meet your hiring goals?”

  • Meet with employers face to face and learn about what they perceive to be their needs.
  • Network. Join organizations and attend meetings that involve multiple agencies and employers in discussions around workforce development. Attend workforce conferences and meetings, and help others learn about your program.
  • Build opportunities into the program for interactions between employers and potential employees.

2. Make a Successful Match

  • Find willing partners, and gauge the willingness of employers to enter into partnerships with adult education programs.
  • Make contact with senior-level executives or others with decision-making authority.
  • Schedule an initial meeting with employers to gauge willingness. Come prepared with data to demonstrate your understanding of their needs and ideas about how your program can fulfill them. 

3. Engage Employers in all Aspects of Program Design and Implementation

“We’re marketing a talent pipeline, not a product” (Tish Harris, Blue Ridge Community College, 2017)

  • Ask employers to identify basic skill requirements and soft skill competencies they need to see in potential employees.
  • Request authentic workplace materials and scenarios to contextualize the curriculum.
  • Ask employers to identify credentials that they consider valuable.
  • Ask employers to provide work-based learning experiences for adult learning (e.g., job shadowing, internships).
  • Plan opportunities for interactions between employers and adult learners (e.g., field trips, speaker series, mock interviews, job fairs).

“Building a relationship takes time, early wins, and persistence. Once a working relationship is established, keep employers “in the loop” about curriculum and program development, as well as student progress and outcomes. Offer recognitions and publicity to employers for their support and participation” (Randall Wilson, 2015).

4. Develop Long-term Relationships

“Building Relationships take time; we are always nurturing the relationship” (Linda Allen, Region 2 Adult Education, 2017).

  • Enlist employer support in the job placement process (e.g., mock interviews, real interviews, hiring, providing tips on doing well in the job process, referrals to other employers).
  • Establish a revision/evaluation process to demonstrate a commitment to improvement.
  • Invite feedback about the success of the program and incorporate that into future programs.
  • Maintain regular contact via phone, email, or meetings, and keep employers informed about new curricula or new programmatic features.
  • Recognize employers for their input, support, and guidance.

This content is adapted from “Engaging Employers: Tips for Success” by the National Veterans Technical Assistance Center (2017) and “Strategies and Tips for Employer Engagement in Career Pathways” from Washington State Adult Education.

For more Tips and Strategies on Engaging Employers

Workplace Literacy Guide, ProLiteracy, 2016 Toolkit

[See p. 31 Sample Employer Survey, p. 43 Sample Contracts, and p. 56 Sample Lesson Plans]

The Workplace Literacy Guide presents steps for developing a workplace literacy program, including how to bid the program, contract for services, form an advisory team, and recruit for employees. It provides sample goals for development, a sample employer survey, sample questions and responses for discussions with employers, sample contracts, sample assessments, and sample lesson plans for workplace literacy education.

Adult Career Pathways (ACP): Engaging Employers to Support ACP, LINCS

Video Series: Building Strategic Partnerships to Support Adult Career Pathways (ACP): Participants discuss their strategies, tips, and experiences in this panel discussion sponsored by the Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE) of the Department of Education (ED).

There are 6 videos in this series. You can Play All by watching this first video and then continuing to the next, or you can select any of the 6 by following this link on Youtube. 

For a quick overview, below is a synopsis of the ACP videos.

Overarching question: What has been done? Staff level agencies implemented monthly working groups. This was done to answer the questions:

  • how can we advance career pathways,
  • how do we leverage funds, platforms, and resources,
  • and how do we bring other partners to the table?

Cross Training Implementation– Train labor staff/health and human services staff/line level staff at regional office and state programs

National Dialogue- Bring federal partners, national governors association, and philanthropic community and employers to engage in conversation

Model of Excellence:  Kansas example of engagement:

Governor implemented a shared position between the Department of Commerce and Board of Regions. This brought together the Public workforce system, post-secondary education, economic development, and  the Workforce Investment Act (I & II). 

Department Of Commerce (DOC) works to engage employers, listen, and meet business needs (growth, retention, recruitment). This helps the adult education field move faster, because the DOC has established needed workforce relationships. 

Educational Spotlight: Shoreline Community College

Shoreline Community College implemented 4 steps to create a more successful program

  1. Encourage student responsibility.
  2. Implement relevant learning for employers.
  3. Encourage more colleges to cultivate skilled and motivated workers and provide pertinent use of college resources.
  4. Involve the community as a way to invest and build economic development.

IBEST Model (Integration of Basic Education and Skills Training)

Full-time occupational training instructor and half-time adult basic education teacher work together to engage learners in contextualized instruction. 

Watch this video from CUNY for an excellent demonstration of co-teaching in adult education.