Pathways to Careers
A Guide to Building Partnerships for Workforce Education and Training

Developing a Mission Statement and Strategic Plan

For the various partners to become involved and stay engaged in building career pathways, each must see clear benefits arising from its involvement. Ideally, all partners should have opportunities to provide input at the outset, when the partnership is defining its vision and setting goals and performance benchmarks. This helps to build consensus and clarity around the vision and clarify roles for the work ahead. It is especially important to involve employers early in vision setting.

- The Career Pathways How-To Guide, Davis Jenkins and Christopher Spence, Workforce Strategy Center, 2006, page 40

Developing a mission statement and strategic plan is an essential step in building a sustainable partnership. This will help the partnership clarify its direction and determine short- and long-term goals, objectives, and action steps. A mission statement and strategic plan also can help inform the larger community about partnership activities and secure additional support and resources.

The stories below illustrate some lessons learned about developing a mission statement and strategic plan by the community teams that participated in the Strategic Partnerships for a Competitive Workforce (SPCW) initiative, a joint project of the U.S. department 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 strategic planning to support career pathways development.

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.

Lessons Learned

Include All Partners in Developing a Mission Statement

As a team gets under way, members need to collaborate to develop a draft mission statement. According to SPCW's Strategic Planning Guide (page 3, available in Resources), "A mission statement is a short declaration of the partnership's core purpose. Often one or two sentences, the mission statement captures the underlying rationale for the existence of the partnership." As the partnership matures and expands, the mission statement may be revised or refined to communicate partnership priorities more effectively. During this process, teams should obtain input from all partners and use the mission statement as a way to communicate their goals and objectives to the community.

Develop a common language for your partnership

To draft a mission statement, team members need to develop common goals and objectives. This process often includes overcoming language barriers among partners unaccustomed to working together. Suzanne Harbin from the Cullman (Ala.) team noted that sometimes different vocabularies and perspectives can be obstacles to communication among partners from different community sectors. "It's been a challenge to get everyone on the same page. We each work with our own set of guidelines," she said. Because perspectives can vary widely among partners, it's important to make sure that team members understand each other and communications are clear.

Invite input from key stakeholders

Effective partnerships continually reach out to those in the community who may benefit from and contribute to the implementation of career pathways. Outreach to community stakeholders is particularly crucial as a team determines its mission. For example, the Cullman (Ala.) team's mission statement was changed after it solicited employer input. The first draft read: "To develop a sustainable partnership comprised of [sic] leading business/industry, workforce development, education, and social service stakeholders from the region, in order to enhance and improve upon education and workforce development outcomes in meeting the employee training needs of Cullman's diverse growing industries." Employer partners declared that this statement was "too long." So the statement was revised to read: "Cullman area citizens committed to the development of a strong, qualified workforce to meet the current and future employment needs of our community."

The Cleveland (Ohio) team also solicited community input when developing its mission statement. Team members held a meeting with local CEOs to discuss the team's goals and possible strategies for meeting those goals. These deliberations resulted in a mission statement that reads: "To make career pathways a major feature of relationships among the industry, unions, workforce development, education, economic development, and support services in the labor market that includes Cuyahoga County and four other nearby counties."

Develop a Strategic Plan

As described in SPCW's Strategic Planning Guide (page 2, available in Resources), "An effective strategic plan can ultimately save the partnership valuable resources, time, and money by helping members gain consensus on and clearly articulate their priorities and stay focused on their established goals." It can serve as a roadmap for partnership activities aimed at establishing career pathways in high-growth industries in the community.

Don't skip the strategic planning process

Discussing the strategic planning process, project consultant Rodney Bradshaw explains, "I just want to emphasize how important the strategic planning process is to a board or an organization in defining its role and how it's going to help find solutions for employers. It begins with a big picture and with not limiting our response to only those things that our individual institutions can provide or to those things for which we have money or can get money. We have to think bigger." Strategic planning helped the Gulf Coast Workforce Board in Texas define its primary customers as employers, an important shift from the way it previously operated. Before, the board focused solely on providing services to job seekers, but it realized that it needed to do more to serve employers to keep good jobs in the region. As a result, the board reorganized into two new divisions: the Employers Services Division, dedicated to serving employers, and the Residents Services Division, continuing the work with job seekers. For the Employers Services Division, the board established specific outcomes and measures of success defined by local employers.

To learn more about the activities of the Gulf Coast Workforce Board, listen to a presentation by Rodney Bradshaw included in the SPCW Employer Engagement Webinar listed under Resources.

Begin strategic planning with asset and resource mapping

To begin their strategic planning, the partnership from Elizabethtown (Ky.) conducted an inventory of partners' resources. According to project consultant Beth Jefferson, this process helped them understand the workforce infrastructure in the region and identify areas of duplication. The team began with the health care field and set out to inventory specific sectors within the field, such as allied health care. By focusing on areas of overlap, the team ultimately was able to help hospitals save significant resources. For example, it found that many hospitals had their own training departments and provided incumbent worker training on many of the same topics. Elizabethtown Community and Technical College, therefore, offered to provide training on-site for incumbent employees. As a result of saving the hospitals money, the team was able to secure financial assistance and leverage hospital advertising budgets to generate important marketing tools for training opportunities.

Base strategic planning on facts

Using data to guide strategic planning helps align team activities with community and industry needs. Project consultant Ken Poole's philosophy on strategic planning is that good strategic economic development work must be based on the facts. "In the planning process," Poole explained, "facts are the critical stimuli that help local leaders be creative about how they approach problems." While a wide variety of data can be useful for planning, Poole recommends that partnerships consider industry profiles, local and regional occupational clusters, the talent base of the local workforce, and local industry capacity for innovation to inform their planning and analysis. The teams, however, should be careful not to get overwhelmed by the data. Teams should collect data and review studies relevant to their community, but they should recognize that they never will have "all" the data or "perfect" data. According to Poole, "Economic data are just additional input to help stimulate the brain … More data are better until it's too much."

Waukesha Community College's Margaret Brown agreed. "There's a lot of data out there," she said, "It's possible to spend too much time with useless data." The Wisconsin State Department of Labor provides state and regional labor market forecasts through 2014. Waukesha Community College's Research Advancement Office collects information on local labor market conditions and trends, as well as retention data and follow-up data on graduates' employment and earnings. The Waukesha team has learned that it's important to define what information the team needs to make decisions and communicate goals. For example, while the state and regional labor market forecasts through 2014 can provide an overall context for the team's work, it now needs shorter-term local labor market forecasts in order to understand the anticipated need for health care workers in 2008 and 2009, so it can more accurately plan for local needs.

For more information on using data to guide team activities, go to " Using Data to Drive Partnership Activities and Meet Objectives."

Seek consensus

When developing a strategic plan, take the time to gain consensus among the partners. For example, the Elizabethtown (Ky.) partnership devoted a year to strategic planning, with a process that included a scan of partners' resources, survey of industry leaders, survey of incumbent workers, and study of the allied health care industry. At every stage of this process, their goal was to reach consensus among team members about the appropriate action steps. At the end of the planning process, the team developed a set of five tenets to guide career pathways development and implementation:

  • Generate a market-responsive education delivery system ensuring program access and responsiveness to consumers' demands.
  • Base course development decisions and expansion on industry forecasts and projected needs.
  • Promote the reallocation of resources and reduction of redundancy though creative partnerships and leveraging of services.
  • Invest time in planning, forecasting, and partnership building to encourage ownership of the challenges and solutions.
  • Generate "one-stop" career assistance and guidance for those in the region, focusing on select career pathways.
According to project consultant Beth Jefferson, what's important about these tenets is that "the education system didn't come up with them [alone] … This came from all of the partners in the community; it came from business and industry. It came from our K-12 education partners. It came from manufacturing. It came from economic development. It came from workforce." By reaching consensus during strategic planning, the Elizabethtown team was united in its dedication to the tenets for developing career pathways.

Think about sustainability from the start

Effective strategic plans consider sustainability issues from the beginning, such as identifying sources of future funding, articulating partners' roles and responsibilities, and defining measurable goals and outcomes. Teams should refer to their strategic plans regularly and refine them as partnerships mature and expand. For example, West Central Ohio Manufacturing Consortium, formed by project consultant Matthew Kinkley and his partners, convened with the end goal of implementing a career pathway. Committing to this goal from the start allowed the team to create a structure to ensure sustainability, including establishing consortium dues and bylaws (see Resources) and determining intermediary roles.

Kinkley described the consortium's planning process: "We took a strategy that was twofold in nature. We said, 'We need to educate our partners about the trends in Ohio, and we really need to understand what's going on in our community and our region.' We looked at employment trends, employee trends, and industry-driven initiatives across the nation. We thought about what's the impact if we do nothing. If we develop this partnership that pushes a pathway forward, how are we going to sustain it? Those are some very significant questions if you haven't already addressed them."

When considering sustainability, one important question to ask, according to the SPCW tool Sustainability Options for Framework Integration and Expansion (page 1, available in Resources), is how the collaborative can "maximize the resources each partner brings to support the system." The tool provides a starting point for partnerships to identify those resources. It lists the expertise, funding, and in-kind resources that business, education, workforce development, and other partners could possibly contribute.


The Gulf Coast Workforce System: Bringing People and Jobs Together. The "Front-End" Pieces of the Strategic Plan: Core Values, Mission, Vision, and Ends, 2003-2008

The Gulf Coast Workforce System, 2003
Draft outline of the Gulf Coast (Texas) workforce system's strategic plan. Includes the workforce investment board's vision, mission, and anticipated results.
Download/View PDF (81kb)

SPCW Employer Engagement Webinar

Workforce3One, 2007
Webinar provides a model for partnerships interested in maximizing the effectiveness of their workforce investment board and developing industry-based, employer-led systems. Includes presentations from Rodney Bradshaw with the Gulf Coast Workforce Board in Texas and Matt Kinkley with West Central Ohio Tech Prep Consortium. To access the webinar, users are required to register with the Workforce3One Web site.
Recorded Version:

Strategic Planning Guide

Workforce Strategy Center, MPR Associates, Inc., and DTI Associates, Inc. for the Strategic Partnerships for a Competitive Workforce (SPCW) Institutes, 2006
Template to help SPCW teams and other partnerships create a strategic plan for developing and implementing career pathways. Describes a six-phase model that includes: planning, developing a vision and mission statement, assessing partners' resources, prioritizing objectives and goals, writing a strategic plan, and budgeting. Includes sample activities for each phase and a template adaptable to teams' needs.
Download/View PDF (53kb)

Sustainability Options for Framework Integration and Expansion

Workforce Strategy Center, MPR Associates, Inc., and DTI Associates, Inc. for the Strategic Partnerships for a Competitive Workforce (SPCW) Institutes, 2006
Developed for the SPCW institutes, highlights tips for leveraging resources from various partners, including employers, private foundations, and community-based organizations, to sustain career pathways.
Download/View PDF (54kb)

West Central Ohio Manufacturing Consortium By-Laws

West Central Ohio Manufacturing Consortium (WCOMC), n.d.
Official by-laws developed by the WCOMC, which oversees career pathways in the region in collaboration with Rhodes State College. Establishes a board of directors and steering committee, outlines responsibilities of consortium staff, and discusses subcommittees, membership, finances, and amendments. Includes partnership agreement between college and industry partners.
Download/View PDF (2.59mb)

Department of Education logo

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.

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Last Modified: 05/11/2009