Scaling Work-Based Learning: Engaging Local Business Partners

In our previous posts, we’ve differentiated between the work-based learning continuum and the internship-based workplace learning experience, and explored some common challenges to scaling a CTE program. In this post, we’ll dive deeper into the first stage of workplace learning: engaging business partners.

Maintaining a robust network of local business partners who can provide experiences to your students is critical to a successful work-based learning program. But how do you engage with the business community? What resources do you need?

Finding business partners

Businesses are important partners who can help shape the educational experiences of all students in schools across the nation. They can play a huge role in district curriculum development and help share news about job trends, opportunities, and economic changes that could impact employment.

One great way schools can connect with businesses is by creating a business advisory council (BAC). This is a group of 8-10 business partners that meets regularly to share information, see what kind of experiential learning opportunities other members are providing, and brainstorm ways to make the work-based learning program more effective for students, schools, and businesses.

The main purposes of the BAC are to:

  • Advise local school districts on changes in the economy and job market, and the areas in which future jobs are most likely to be available
  • Advocate for the employment skills most critical to local industries and collaborate in the development of curriculum and programming to teach those skills
  • Aid and support local districts by offering suggestions for developing a working relationship among businesses, labor organizations and educators
  • Recommend other businesses that might be interested in supporting the program. A member from the BAC can connect the school with another business much more effectively than a cold call. All those contacts and connections should be recorded so schools can follow up–this is why a robust software platform is critical to maintaining communication with your business partner network.

When inviting partners to serve on the BAC, select a variety of career pathways that promote equity and inclusiveness. And once you’ve got a group on board, make sure to keep them engaged through regular meetings–at least twice a year, if not quarterly. 

Ask your BAC members to identify what would attract businesses to partner with the school. Remember to do more listening than talking, and ask questions that encourage them to provide honest feedback and genuine insight.

Along with BACs, schools can connect with businesses through intermediary organizations such as chambers of commerce, workforce investment boards and industry associations. These organizations can help link state work-based learning administrators with employer communities throughout the region.

Another way to engage community members is to reach out through your school’s alumni association. Find alumni who are business owners or hold relevant roles in desirable industries, and use their existing connection to your school to demonstrate the advantages of a partnership.

Once you’ve identified some prospective partners, how do you reach out? Cold calls? Zoom invites? Coffee chats at local restaurants? Attending economic development or chamber of commerce businesses? Yes, to all of the above. Reach out in a variety of ways and allow them to choose the method of communication that works best for them.

You can also use social media to capture business partners’ attention. Consider creating a video about your school’s CTE department that shows businesses all the great work your students are already doing in the community. In fact, making this video can be an internship opportunity in itself if you hire an aspiring student videographer to lead the project!

Making business partners’ jobs easy

Once you’ve connected with business partners through BACs or intermediaries, find ways to make their relationship with your school as seamless as possible. Give them clear instructions and steps to success, and communicate early and often. And remind them of the mutually beneficial aspects of the partnership–for example, the businesses can get publicity and positive marketing by placing their logos and website links on the school’s work-based learning page or platform.

Some districts may wish to identify work-based learning activities that allow for flexible employer engagement, recognizing the time commitment required by employers for different types of experiences. Offering an array of activities can allow a company to increase its participation over time. For example, maybe you first partner with a business by simply asking them to speak at one career day. But the next year, they may remember the positive word-of-mouth they gained from the experience, and create an internship opportunity for a student.

Keeping communication consistent

Of course, growing your business partner network is critical–but unless you scale efficiently, educators can quickly be overwhelmed by having to manage communication with dozens of new business partners all at once. If your department has only one person creating all partnerships, be sure to have a platform like Transeo Jobs in place that will help manage initial recruitment, keep track of all communication, automate messages, and serve as a centralized hub for all contacts.

Once you’ve got your business partner network in place, it’s time to prepare students for their internship experiences. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for our next blog post about the benefits of work-based learning for students, and how to get them ready for their first day on the job.