At the kickoff of JFF’s three-day GreenWays Peer Learning Meeting in Milwaukee, WI, practitioners, consultants, and site leads discussed employer engagement strategies, with a particular focus on the formation, operation, and contributions of employer advisory panels. The highly interactive discussion was highlighted by the sharing of some innovative practices that workforce partnerships use to facilitate and deepen employer involvement in growing a skilled workforce. Below is a brief recap of some of the lessons offered by JFF’s workforce partners:
- Retention begins at recruitment. Having a well thought-out strategy based on knowledge of employers’ needs for identifying and reaching out to potential participants increases the likelihood of positive employment and retention outcomes. Knowing what employers are looking for helps applicants decide whether this is the right career choice for them. It is also critical to handle this first step in the process of direct service provision properly to ensure maximum impact of your time and resources. Similarly, the development and utilization of sector-informed intake procedures further improves the likelihood of positive outcomes. Effective recruitment and intake yields cohorts of participants who are motivated to succeed in both training and occupation, and who are capable of attaining job readiness within the strictures of time and investment particular to your program.
Expose training participants to employers in the workplace. When your training design includes learning on employer premises, this increases the likelihood that participants will stay motivated, persist in training, and develop new skills and competencies in a manner that strengthens the connections between learning and performing. If you can offer externships, on-the-job training, or apprenticeships, do it. Our GreenWays partners from Asian American Civic Association (AACA) in Boston, MA, offered another alternative: job shadowing. AACA built job-shadowing activities into the design of their Partnership in Automotives Career Education (PACE) program. Participants experience job shadowing twice per training cycle at dealerships and automotives-related chain businesses. AACA reports that hearing what an employer expects from workers, from the employer, and within his or her business, makes the message real for participants.
- Woo employers by appealing to the competitive spirit. Healthy relationships are built upon on mutually beneficial exchange. If you want employers to participate in training programs, you should offer employers something they find appealing; and tangible trumps ethereal. Employers are mindful of the bottom line, but are also motivated by factors other than money or savings. Jerry Tapley of Federation of Neighborhood Centers in Philadelphia developed a Social Impact Campaign that stimulates employer engagement by offering employers recognition. Employers accumulated points for the performance of certain behaviors like conducting mock interviews, and offering job shadowing or tours to training participants. The most active employers then received special recognition at a large banquet.
Maintain your focus on the interests of employers. Employer advisory panels work best when the constituent employers receive consistently beneficial returns throughout the experience. Start by examining how you can help a collection of businesses, which may be competitors, to expand the strength of their industry or cluster within your region. Focus on identifying how you can help these businesses make or save money. Bringing them together regularly helps them identify some of their common concerns, and gives them a chance to hear about innovative practices from another employer, not just from a workforce provider. Once you clarify, in detail, what your employer partners are looking for, then you can proceed to conversations about workforce development.
- The days of bulk, one-size-fits-all training resulting in employment are over. Technical skill demand in today’s labor market is highly differentiated, and few employers in any region are looking to hire more than a handful of people at any moment in time. This is particularly true for green jobs. Work with your employer partners to craft training programs that stress skills and functionality applicable in multiple disciplines, rather than chasing a specific occupation. Identify core competencies central to multiple occupations as the basis of your training offerings. Then, deliver technical skills training that enables your participants to perform varied occupational functions that keeping them working beyond the completion of short-term projects. Also, be realistic with the size of your cohorts. Effective training for the modern workforce is logistically challenging to implement, and may take longer than what your funders have in mind, but ignorance of labor market realities is a disservice to your participants.
Inform employers about the incentives related to green. Phil Jordan of BW Research found in an employer survey that two-thirds of all contractors active in San Diego-area Building Trades are not active in the green sector. Most of these are small contractors—at least 50% have five or fewer employees. These contractors also reported that they were widely unaware of the many incentives and credits that could be serving as marketing tools for green construction services. If you are engaging employers to help you develop green-skilled workers, you should do what you can to help small contractors become better informed about market incentives for the products and services that drive demand for green-skilled workers. Workforce partners can educate employers as well as participants.
These are just some of the insights shared at the GreenWays Peer Learning Meeting. Look for more takeaways in future blogs...