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Rules of Thumb for Engaging Employers

What Works?

Use ongoing industry and labor market information as an engagement tool. By engaging employers to vet and understand data points, you get critical information about industry needs as well as offering employers a learning and sharing opportunity. Employers are often surprised that other firms are experiencing the same challenges and make the case for collaboration to improve industry wide competitiveness as well as within their individual firms.

Emphasize the process of identifying common challenges across employers, understanding the root causes to those challenges, and then jointly developing a solution. This very process sets up a different expectation for employers, one that may weed some out but that will establish a different kind of collaborative relationship between the public and private sectors. Too often we see examples of workforce solutions that are pulled “off-the-shelf” in response to employers’ needs, with the inevitable result of the solution not actually being appropriate to the problem.

Focus on high priority needs, especially early on. Earning a reputation for responsiveness will help ensure that you sustain employer support when tackling challenges that require longer lead times.

Be wary of using incumbent worker training or customized training programs as a “hook” to engage employers. This works – temporarily. Unfortunately it also sends a message to employers that they only need to be “at the table” when there’s training money available. However, do take advantage of your ability to leverage multiple funding streams to create seamless solutions – just don’t make money your primary value-add.

Keep the employer voice prominent. Demand-driven efforts often start out right by talking to and listening to employers, but at some point this can get stopped. Why? Because everyone has an opinion. With multiple partners trying to serve the needs of employers and workers, it can be a noisy and confusing experience for employers, and that’s about when they start walking away. An effective intermediary knows how to manage many different voices in a way that keeps the employer voice prominent. (Read more about managing your partnership.)

Think like business. Public and private sector work cultures can be very different. Employers will appreciate and respond if you respect their time, avoid acronyms, and focus agendas on action or things they need to know, not administrative issues and logistics. Measure outcomes and provide information on progress towards goals, just like a business keeps an eye on quality and output measure. Figure out what works for them and make that your norm.

Put everyone’s agenda on table; get clear about a shared vision. Employers will put in what’s needed to make it work if they own it. Be upfront with employers about their role as co-owners and governing bodies. Stress partnership model - a lot is missed when we narrowly define a sector initiative as a vendor relationship between employers and an education/training provider. At the same time that you need to pay attention to the common agenda, don’t forget to acknowledge and look for ways to address individual company’s needs as well.

It’s okay to be choosy. Convener can make choices about which employers to work with. Employers are a partner and a customer, but job-seekers can be thought of as the constituents. Whatever services that are provided to employers must also be on behalf of jobseekers. This could mean coaching employers about hiring target populations, working with just “high road employers,” or prioritizing family-sustaining jobs.
 

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