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Direction, Connection, Momentum and Energy

Every Partnership Needs Direction and Connection

The heart of a good sector partnership is making sure the solutions are the right match for the identified workforce needs of the target industry. This implies a need by the Partnership Intermediary to facilitate the direction of the partnership without setting its course. The intermediary is responsible for mobilizing the partners and providing a forum for actions that connect to longer term goals. The employer members are responsible for charting the course of the initiative based on their shared needs.

What is the role of the public workforce system and other partners? They must participate, listen carefully to what employers are saying, draw on their knowledge of what their systems can offer, and help design and implement joint solutions to the employers’ needs. With employers, public systems and other private stakeholders at the table, the intermediary must manage their input, ideas, questions, and even their doubts.

Does this sound familiar?

    * We tried that 10 years ago, and it didn’t work.

If this sounds familiar, this is a chance to ask some questions that help illuminate why “it didn’t work.” In other words, there may be a good reason why that curriculum developed 10 years ago (or even last year) is sitting on a shelf. It may not have been the right solution. This could be because the actual problem was never identified, despite best intentions.

What about this?

    * We’ve been doing that for years. You’ve just never known about it.
    * “So-and-so” has been doing that for years. We just need to market their program on a wider scale.

If these sound familiar, you may be entering into the dangerous territory of “Here’s the solution. Do you have our problem?” instead of “Here’s the problem. What’s the underlying cause of the problem? What is the right solution?”

Managing the partnership is more than just coordination. It requires facilitating partners in a way that breaks through the surface of the challenges facing employers in order to identify their underlying root causes. It also requires facilitating second looks at existing programs that may or may not be solutions to the challenges. Making these key connections will provide direction to the partnership that will help to ensure the best possible solutions are identified and implemented.

Every Initiative Needs a Way to Maintain Momentum and Energy

Every initiative faces the challenge of maintaining the energy that may have jumpstarted the effort. In fact, if the intermediary and/or a set of Employer Champions do not continue to provide leadership and outreach to partners, momentum may even wane immediately following the first meeting. Why does this happen? Because each stakeholder must return to their firm, agency or organization and confront the ultimate questions: Does this effort support my needs, my organization’s mission? Is this the right place to put my energy and my organization’s time?

To avoid downturns in energy, the intermediary of the partnership will need to follow a certain set of steps that immediately follow any initial engagement or “Kick-off” meetings, including:

  • Begin meeting regularly, but always have a clear objective for each meeting (never meet for the sake of meeting). Remember to be cautious with the time offered by or required of employer members.
  • Name your effort. This is a good time to get input from partners on what this group is really all about. Naming your effort (e.g. The Manufacturing Roundtable, the Healthcare Career Services Council, M-Powered, or the Extended Care Career Ladder Initiative) is an easy, fun way to create buy-in and ownership from partners.
  • Begin to implement the steps in your initiative's plan immediately, understanding that the plan can (and should) always evolve based on new input by the partnership. Make it clear to partners that this is the transition from the planning phase into the implementation phase.
  • Identify programs, resources, and policies that affect the nature of the industry’s workforce challenges. This is often referred to as a “resource map” or “program scan.” It also should evolve as new programs or resources are discovered.

It may be helpful to envision the natural life cycle of a sector initiative to understand where and how management is needed. This is also a useful tool to share with partners.