Employer Engagement Toolkit: From Placement to Partners

At a Glance

This toolkit is a guide for training providers, workforce development organizations, community colleges, other educational institutions, and community-based organizations deliberately integrating employer engagement into the core decision making for a successful program. It offers strategies for educational institutions and workforce development organizations in the early stages of launching a new relationship and building a strategic partnership.

Published sep. 29, 2015



Area of Work
  • Meeting Employer Needs


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This toolkit's individual exercises, checklists, planning guides, questionnaires, and resources are designed to:

  • Guide training providers, workforce development organizations, community colleges, other educational institutions, and community-based organizations to begin to deliberately integrate employer engagement into the core decision making of your program
  • Offer strategies to increase the number of ways employers can participate in your program design and development
  • Help workforce development organizations and educational institutions begin to develop relationships with employers

Workforce development organizations and educational institutions recognize that strong relationships with businesses are imperative to place their program graduates into jobs. However, it can be difficult to understand these and the value of engaging in deep employer relationships that maximize benefits for program participants and employers.

Using the Toolkit

This toolkit is organized into four sections and is designed as a modular guide, not a publication that must be read from cover to cover. The tools are designed to stand alone, while also organized into sections that progress sequentially. Use the entire toolkit as a package or select individual exercises, checklists, planning guides, or resources that are most relevant to you. The toolkit begins with an assessment of your current employer relationships; provides ideas for new employer outreach and strategies for positioning your organization as a valued industry convener, and; provides tools that connect employers directly to your training program.

Section 1: Getting Ready

This section is intended to be the first step in your efforts to incorporate robust employer engagement into each element of your training program design and delivery. Before you can improve and expand your relationships with employers, you have to understand your current forms of engagement.

This section frames your strategy for new employer involvement by examining three critical aspects of how your current partnerships meet both your and your employer partners’ needs. These tools help: 1) assess the current status of your employer involvement from your perspective and that of your existing employer partners; 2) clarify what you most want from new partners, as well as what they need from you; and 3) map your existing assets and develop your value proposition. Each of these three steps requires you to compare the value of employer involvement to you and to your employer partners. Unless these needs become aligned, your efforts to more deeply involve employers in your industry are not likely to succeed.

Tool 1.1. Assess Your Current Partners: Internal Assessment

This internal partner assessment is a first step to the employer engagement process. Use this worksheet to focus your efforts, outline your current partner activities, and determine what you need from your partners.

Tool 1.1

Tool 1.2. Develop Your Partner Database

This tool brings together the details of your employer partnership into a single table that can help you analyze trends and search for gaps in your industry relationships.

Tool 1.2

Tool 1.3. Assess Your Current Partners: External Assessment

Your current partnerships form the baseline of your engagement strategy and can be useful in engaging new employers. This tool helps you assess your current partners to see if you are meeting their needs, as well as how their involvement in your program aligns with the needs you identified in your internal assessment.

Tool 1.3

Tool 1.4. Setting Goals to Guide New Partner Development

This worksheet helps you analyze the information you have gathered about your partnership so that you can set goals to strengthen it. This tool focuses on key activities and allows you to set additional goals.

Tool 1.4

Tool 1.5. What Employers Value Most

Share this worksheet with employers as a starting point for a joint discussion of how they can be involved in your program. You can ask them to complete it on their own, or use it as an interview guide when you meet.

Tool 1.5

Tool 1.6. Mapping Your Assets

Preparing for effective employer involvement requires knowledge of all your assets, including those that may not seem obvious. Use this table to map your assets in four major categories: knowledge, facilities, relationships, and partners.

Tool 1.6

Tool 1.7. Demonstrate Return on Investment (ROI) to Employers

Many businesses use ROI calculations to assess new opportunities—like possible involvement in your program. This tool will help you think about your program from the perspective of financial ROI for your potential employers.

Tool 1.7

Tool 1.8. Craft an Employer-Based Value Proposition

As you prepare to approach employers, develop a statement of your value proposition in collaboration with some of your existing employer partners.

Tool 1.8

Section 2: Targeting Your Relationships

The goal of the employer engagement promoted throughout this toolkit is to develop deep and lasting partnerships that are mutually beneficial. This section supports that goal by focusing your relationship building on the strategic decision makers in your target industry.

Building each employer relationship takes significant effort and time, yet not all of these relationships bring equal value to your program. This section helps focus your outreach and engagement strategically. Start by building an in-depth knowledge of the industry: who are the employers and what can each of them bring to your program? This will help you identify and appeal to the right companies in your efforts to prioritize employer engagement in your program operations. Next, consider whom you approach at the company level. You can get the most value by aligning employer leadership with the leadership of your program.

Tool 2.1. Identifying Employers in Your Industry

Rather than using a pre-existing contact list of employers in your industry, take the time to develop your own. This tool provides tips on using both your existing partners and external sources to identify appropriate companies.

Tool 2.1

Tool 2.2. Recruiting Your Employer Leadership Committee

Employer leadership committees can be critical contributors to any job training or workforce development program. This guide helps you select employers that can best serve on a leadership committee.

Tool 2.2

Tool 2.3 Develop High-Level Relationships

Developing relationships with the top leadership of successful employers should be central to your employer involvement strategy, because these decision makers are critical to ensuring that the businesses fully support your partnership. This worksheet offers step-by-step guidance for your initial outreach to the leadership of potential partner organizations.

Tool 2.3

Section 3: Be a Go-To Convener

One of the best ways to encourage partnership with your program among your target employers is to become a go-to convener of industry events and a provider of valued information. This sends the message that you are not just a service provider to companies or a social service program seeking industry support. Instead, you are positioned as a knowledgeable and trusted leader within the industry community.

Being a convener can be particularly valuable, because firms and other industry representatives need a forum that allows them to overcome barriers to collaboration. Sharing information among competitors can allow them to grow the pool of talented labor available to businesses throughout the industry. Ultimately, a goal of this kind of convening is to develop functioning partnerships among employers. The workforce training program also benefits, because aggregating their labor demands facilitates access to higher quality information about program demand.

This section provides guidance for becoming a go-to convener through understanding industry issues and hosting industry events that address them. It also includes several tools that help program staff communicate with employers to maximize the opportunities to build relationships at the events that you host.

Positioning yourself as an industry convener supports the goal of this toolkit to engage employers in your program operations, because employers are more likely to invest their time and effort in organizations that they value. In addition, the form of engagement by those partners will benefit you most when you understand their industry needs and can direct their activities to those areas of value.

Tool 3.1. Identify Major Issues Facing the Industry

Use this worksheet as a starting point for identifying major issues in your industry. Address these issues in events that you host for local employers—even if they are not directly about their workforce.

Tool 3.1

Tool 3.2. Co-Host an Employer-Focused Networking Event

Use this guide to plan networking events as simple as a cocktail party or as elaborate as a vendor fair. The tool provides tips for each stage of event planning including: partnering with co-hosts, setting event objectives, selecting an event type, and inviting employers.

Tool 3.2

Tool 3.3. Tips for Successful Employer Connections

This tool offers tips to ensure that everyone in your organization, even those who do not usually reach out to employers, is prepared to make the most out of their interactions with employers.

Tool 3.3

Section 4: Partnership

Ultimately, you are developing relationships with employers so that you can deliver a training program that will create strong career opportunities for participants. Your organization should not only focus on job placement, but also on mapping career pathways so your program graduates can advance within your target industries. You should also work with your employer partners to create a training program that provides the skilled workers that companies seek to promote throughout their industry.

This section focuses on how to partner with employers to design and deliver your training program to align with employer needs. For example, if you accept people into your program that businesses would not hire, your program graduates are unlikely to find jobs. Instead, you can work with employers in participant selection to identify individuals who fit your program’s target population while also meeting employer criteria. In addition to participant selection, employers often critique the soft skills, occupational skills, certifications, and work experience of graduates emerging from training programs. The tools in this section offer strategies to maximize employer input in these critical areas and set your graduates up for success in the industry. This section gets to the core value of employer engagement to your goal of delivering a high-quality training program.

Tool 4.1 Employer Voice in Participant Selection

Use this table to consider multiple strategies for incorporating employer partners into your participant intake process and to determine which works best for your program.

Tool 4.1

Tool 4.2. Prioritizing the Right Soft Skills

Provide this worksheet to your employer partners so you can better understand which soft skills are most important to your program.

Tool 4.2

Tool 4.3. Finding Skills in Labor Market Information

This tool helps you develop a curriculum that is likely to appeal to employers in your sector using O*NET, an online federal resource.

Tool 4.3

Tool 4.4. Teaching Industry Skills

Use this worksheet to develop and track employer feedback and participation in each of the industry skills your program teaches.

Tool 4.4

Tool 4.5. Work-Based Experience

Ask employers what kinds of on-the-job opportunities they would find most helpful to prepare participants for employment, and whether they would consider providing those opportunities. Use this tool to begin that process and to organize your planning as you implement work-based experience in your program.

Tool 4.5