Knowing Your Audience
The clearest indicator of employer support for a college is willingness to hire the college’s graduates/completers. To best serve local employers, colleges must be aware of the evolving needs of businesses in the regions they serve. For that need-sensing to produce results, it cannot be a reactive process. Rather, colleges must be proactive in giving employers opportunities to share information on a regular basis.
It is critically important for employers to keep colleges apprised of industry trends. Detailed information from employers on evolving skills, training needs, hiring needs (both short- and long-term), retirement projections, and strategies for growing their employment base will help colleges build industry-informed programs.
Employers may benefit from their partner college’s assistance in helping diversify their workforce. Additionally, colleges can help employers support an inclusive work environment by helping identify procedures that may carry implicit bias.
Industry-specific information on skills needed, trends in technology, licensures, certifications, and regulations can help colleges enhance existing programs and create new ones.
Employer feedback provides valuable information on the skills of new graduates as well as new skills needed by incumbent workers as the workplace evolves. This feedback on both employability and technical skills enables a college to address gaps in academic offerings, student support, extracurricular programming and customized training.
Information can be gathered from businesses in a variety of ways, such as attending meetings of employer associations, economic development or workforce development boards, and chambers of commerce, or by participating in other activities hosted by groups outside the college. Information can also be gathered through college-driven activities such as employer roundtables, one-on-one outreach, partnering between continuing education and academic divisions, and employer satisfaction surveys.
Businesses can provide letters of commitment stating their need for workers to be trained through grant programs proposed by the college. In so doing, the employers are validating what the college proposes to provide through the grant. The willingness of local employers to endorse the college in grant-seeking efforts is an indication of their engagement with the college and their familiarity with its programs.
Employers can interact with the college by participating in career fairs, offering facility tours for students, and sponsoring internships or apprenticeships, providing scholarships and equipment donations, and other support.
This involvement is important to the college in that it helps to inform programs, connect employers with students, increase student recruitment activities, and build valuable relationships between the college and the community.
- Employers are busy running their business. Make it easy for them to be involved.
- Don’t make your first involvement an “ask.” Rather, show that you are interested in what they do, who they employ, and how they contribute to the life of the community.
- Recognize there may be other colleagues at your institution who already are engaging with employers. Plan a cohesive approach to avoid duplicating efforts or confusing employers.
- Identify other workforce development/economic development organizations that may be engaging with employers. Asking questions about hiring/training needs may be duplicative or redundant. Be aware of similar initiatives in your community and collaborate when practical.