A Guide to Building Partnerships for Workforce Education and Training
The biggest lesson we learned at the Institute was how important it is to get the right people to sit around the table.
- Jorge Guerra, Dean of Aviation and Automotive Technology, Broward Community College (Florida)
Building a competitive workforce through career pathways requires trusting relationships and clear lines of communication among key stakeholders. To establish this foundation, the right mix of people must be identified and appropriate leaders recruited to form a partnership. Potential partners should include community leaders who can make valuable contributions to workforce development and who understand the big picture. They should represent a broad spectrum of interests, including education, business, and government. The partnership must be shaped into a cohesive unit by such activities as determining partner roles and responsibilities and establishing a team identity. As the partnership matures, long-term success will require flexibility among the partners.
The stories below illustrate lessons learned about forming partnerships by the community teams that participated in the Strategic Partnerships for a Competitive Workforce (SPCW) initiative, a joint project of the U.S. departments of Education and Labor. Teams attended one of several institutes to receive technical assistance in partnership development, strategic planning, and implementation of career pathways in specific high-growth industries. The stories also include advice from consultants who work with communities on developing partnerships to support economic growth and competitiveness in their regions.
At the end of this section is a list of resources that are either referenced in the text or related to the lessons learned. Each resource includes a brief description and URL.
- Get the Right People at the Table
- Define Roles and Responsibilities
- Establish a Team Identity
- Make Room for Growth
Building a competitive workforce through career pathways means getting the right people at the table. No single organization can implement career pathways alone; it requires a regionwide effort that engages decision-makers, takes advantage of local networks, and leverages existing efforts.
Although the composition of partnerships may differ across regions, they should include, at a minimum, representatives from secondary, adult basic, and postsecondary education, the targeted industry, and the workforce development system. Other important partners to consider are economic development agencies, faith and community-based organizations, social service agencies, state and local government agencies, and regional foundations.
As the initial convener of the Cullman (Ala.) team, Suzanne Harbin of Wallace State Community College used the Building a Competitive Workforce Through Career Pathways Systems: Partner Roles and Responsibilities (see Resources) guidelines provided by SPCW to identify organizations to include on the team. Harbin also worked to recruit the "movers and shakers" from each organization. According to The Career Pathways How-To Guide (page 42, available in Resources), "Buy-in from the top leadership in each organization … is critical to the success of career pathways partnerships." In the end, Harbin's team was composed of the director of the North Alabama Adult Education Program, the career tech coordinator for the Cullman City Schools, the assistant director of the Cullman Economic Development Agency, the assistant to the president for workforce development at Wallace State Community College, the workforce development coordinator for Cullman Career Center, and the human resources director for Axsys Technologies.
It was not until the team started working together at the institute, however, that Harbin and her fellow team members understood the strategy behind the guidelines. She noted, "Once we got there, we knew team composition was important." With its rich mix of industry, education, and workforce representatives, the team brought diverse perspectives and resources to bear as it began to draft its initial mission statement for the partnership.
Team members should draw upon personal relationships and professional contacts to identify other appropriate people to bring to the table. "It's all about the network," said Jorge Guerra of Broward County Community College. His Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) team's successful partnership with the marine industry initially began because of personal relationships. The chairman of the board of the Broward Community College Foundation is a neighbor of the executive director of the Marine Industry Association of South Florida. When the marine industry executive found out about the existing college partnership with the automotive industry, he asked his neighbor about undertaking a similar partnership benefiting the 800 employer members of his association.
The college and the marine industry association jointly conducted a needs analysis and decided to proceed with the collaboration because of the critical need to train qualified workers. As the marine industry partnership has developed, additional opportunities for expansion have arisen. After one team member mentioned the partnership to a personal friend, the executive director of the American Yacht and Boat Council, the partnership forged a new and unique agreement with this national organization that sets safety standards for the boat building and repair industry. Florida educators and students will now have access to certification programs recognized by the industry, complete with curriculum and lesson plans, to train future workers.
Project consultant Yariela Kerr-Donovan suggests that communities "develop partnerships with organizations, agencies, educational institutions, etc. that already have services and programs in place that support the overall project. This will allow for greater support and sharing of resources, and it will save time."
The team from Central Florida that attended an SPCW institute on health care decided to do exactly that. Several team members were already part of a strategic partnership formed in 2005 called Partners for a Healthy Community (PHC) (see Resources). At the institute, team members decided that rather than create another partnership, they would increase their participation in PHC. In fact, six members of that team became members of PHC's working committees, including the Data Collection and Forecasting Committee. It is worth noting that the PHC itself was the result of a merger of two similar initiatives. The president of Valencia Community College had been working with other education partners to address the nursing workforce shortage at the same time that the local workforce board, Workforce Central Florida, was providing the region's hospitals with training grants. With the momentum created by the 2004 report Critical Condition: The Urgent Need to Expand Healthcare Education in Central Florida (see Resources), the two groups decided in 2005 to join forces rather than duplicate efforts. Thus, the PHC was formed.
Establishing roles and responsibilities for each partner is an important component of team building. This includes identifying an intermediary (defined below), establishing leadership for the partnership, and sharing responsibilities among all team members. Assigning roles helps secure partners' commitment to the team, creates trusting relationships and clear lines of communication, and provides a structure for sustaining the partnership. For more information about typical partner roles, see Building a Competitive Workforce through Career Pathways Systems: Partner Roles and Responsibilities under Resources.
One of the partners should play the role of convener or intermediary to ensure that the team remains active beyond the initial activity that brings them together. According to Building a Competitive Workforce through Career Pathways: Partner Roles and Responsibilities (page 1):
The responsibility of the intermediary is to bring together local stakeholders to help build and pursue a strategic plan to create competitive workforce and develop career pathways collaboratives. The intermediary's role may vary based on the needs of the partners, but this lead organization is often tasked with the overall development of the project framework, including partnership agreements, developing operations and implementation plans, and coordinating the partners to develop pilot programs. The intermediary will also work with project partners, local and state governmental agencies, and private foundations to formulate a resource funding package to ensure that pilot programs continue and are sustainable. Finally, it is the role of the intermediary to ensure that goals are set, milestones are met, and the system is functioning on a day-to-day basis.
Often the community college assumes the role of the intermediary, as was the case with the team from Waukesha County (Wis.). The team also designated a point person at the community college to schedule meetings, arrange for note taking, send out minutes, and approve substitutes as necessary. If Margaret Brown of Waukesha Community College had not taken the lead, the Waukesha team was not sure it would have succeeded. Her leadership is critical to keeping the team together and well informed, according to one team member. As the project manager for the Community-Based Job Training grant, she was in a logical position to assume this role.
While some partnerships designate a single organization as the intermediary, other partnerships choose to share leadership among several partner organizations. This was the case in Elizabethtown (Ky.), according to project consultant Beth Jefferson. This partnership attributes much of its success to shared governance and planning.
Shared governance "took out some of the local politics" and shifted the emphasis to outcomes, Jefferson explains. The process began with a team of more than 60 members. Then an operational group was formed to carry out the wishes of the larger group. This operational group comprised administrative and clinical representatives from the health care industry, faculty and administrators of the community college, representatives from the local One-Stop, and leadership from the local workforce investment board. With each group activity, memoranda of understanding were created using the workforce investment board's existing agreements as a template. In fact, each of Kentucky's local workforce investment service regions has a template that can be used by community partners.
A one-size-fits-all leadership model does not suit all teams. Teams must take members' busy schedules and other responsibilities into consideration when designing a leadership structure. The Waukesha (Wis.) team, for example, learned that flexibility is essential to a sustainable partnership in their community. Rather than having a formal governance structure, Waukesha uses a committee structure. Subcommittees form as necessary for specific functions, such as developing a strategic plan or writing a white paper. Team meetings are scheduled to accommodate travel and work schedules; for instance, members are allowed to participate by conference call or send substitutes, if necessary.
Because team members represent diverse community needs and interests, it is important to create a unifying team identity to which members and the community can easily relate. For example, the Cullman (Ala.) team wanted a team name and image that reflected their commitment to the region's employers. Also, since team members wanted to expand their team beyond those who attended the SPCW institute, they needed a name that resonated with industry leaders, educators, workers, parents, and students. They decided to call themselves Cullman Area Workforce Solutions (CAWS). With this new team identity, they have been aggressively marketing themselves as a force in the region's economic and workforce development system. They were featured in a Birmingham news show; they developed a glossy insert (see CAWS Newspaper Tab in Resources) for the local newspaper, with three more inserts planned for the coming year; and they are creating a Web site (see Resources).
For additional information on team branding and marketing, go to " Message and Outreach."
Team composition will change as the partnership matures. When other community stakeholders hear good news about the team, they may want to join the career pathways effort. Teams should welcome new members and recognize that some members may eventually move on.
Although the Cullman (Ala.) team had to invite people to join initially, calls now come in almost every week from people interested in participating. Judy Bradford, chair of the partnership, attributes this successful growth to a good initial team and a business-focused plan for growth. "I think we started out with a good group … in pulling together some key players and in finding the go-getters," Bradford noted. The team also identified businesses that were growing and those that would benefit most from economic expansion. Other additions to the team included: the K-12 school superintendent, a county economic development representative, an employment services representative, and a member from the Alabama Technology Network, part of the state's postsecondary education department. As the team has seen a need for certain partners or resources, it has invited others to join. For example, when developing the Educator Exchange program, the partnership invited a local employment agency to join. This agency later contributed funding to cover payroll, insurance, and support services for the program.
The team from Southeast Minnesota also has changed since first forming. To renew dedication to team goals, changes in its membership were necessary. Some team members realized that they just couldn't commit adequate time to the team, so they nominated others to replace them, allowing the team to preserve its original intent and maintain sufficient employer representation. According to one team leader, making changes in membership helped the team to see where it needed additional support and to identify organizations in the community that could provide such support. By being flexible, the Southeast Minnesota team was able to replace a team member with the local K-12 superintendent and thereby secure the school district's support for the development of career pathways. Team leaders noted that it can be difficult to help new team members quickly understand the team's mission and goals, but letting go of inactive team members and recruiting new people can ensure better overall commitment to the partnership.
Building a Competitive Workforce Through Career Pathways Systems: Partner Roles and Responsibilities
Workforce Strategy Center, MPR Associates, Inc., and DTI Associates, Inc. for the Strategic Partnerships for a Competitive Workforce (SPCW) Institutes, 2006
Offers guidelines developed for the SPCW initiative on identifying and selecting partners to support career pathways development. Describes the roles that typical partners (e.g., industry, the workforce investment system, and educational institutions) can play.
View/Download PDF (37kb)
The Career Pathways How-To Guide
D. Jenkins and C. Spence, Workforce Strategy Center, 2006
Second in a series of three reports called Pathways to Competitiveness, highlights examples of effective policies and programs in support of career pathways. Guides users through five stages of pathways development: gap analysis, planning, implementation, continuous improvement, and expansion. Includes tips and lessons learned for state administrators based on experiences in pathways development and implementation in California, Kentucky, Ohio, Oregon, and Washington state.
View/Download PDF (570kb)
Critical Condition: The Urgent Need to Expand Healthcare Education in Central Florida
O-Force (The Orlando Regional Partnership for Tomorrow's Workforce), 2004
Documents the growing gap between the demand for health care services in Central Florida and the capacity of the region's health care education programs. Describes barriers to effective health care education, including funding, faculty, and recruitment issues, and recommends ways for state government, education, and the health care industry to expand nursing education.
View/Download PDF (1.37mb)
Cullman Area Workforce Solutions (CAWS)
Web site designed and maintained by CAWS, an industry-driven partnership supporting career pathways development and implementation in Cullman, Ala. Web site is still under development and will include information for job seekers, parents, and students. Currently includes background information on CAWS and a discussion forum.
Cullman Area Workforce Solutions Newspaper Tab
Cullman Area Workforce Solutions (CAWS), 2007
Designed by a regional partnership in Cullman, Ala., to market career pathways and job opportunities in a variety of industries, as well as training programs at the local community college. Runs quarterly as an insert in the local newspaper.
View/Download PDF (1.14mb)
Partners for a Healthy Community
Partners for a Healthy Community (PHC), 2005
Summary of Partners for a Healthy Community, a partnership of health care providers, educational institutions, and community organizations dedicated to promoting and expanding the health care industry in Central Florida. Describes PHC's mission, members, and research agenda.
View/Download PDF (83kb)
This represents a major section of Pathways to Careers: A Guide to Building Partnerships for Workforce Education and Training, a document that reports on activities connected with an initiative jointly sponsored by the U.S. departments of Education and Labor (the Strategic Partnerships for a Competitive Workforce initiative). It was produced under U.S. Department of Education Contract No. ED-04-CO-0121/0001 with MPR Associates. Jessica Reed served as the contracting officer's representative. The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the positions or policies of the departments of Education or Labor. No official endorsement by the departments of Education or Labor of any product, commodity, service or enterprise mentioned in this publication is intended or should be inferred. Further, the inclusion of URLs is a convenience to the reader; it does not imply endorsement by the departments of Education and Labor of either the information presented on these Web sites or of the organizations that sponsor them. All URLs were last accessed on June 16, 2008.