Connections: The Newsletter of the National Career Pathways Network

Volume 31, No. 2
Employer Engagement

Study Examines Impact of Employer Engagement on Career Pathways

CORD ECMC report coverCORD recently released a report titled A Look at Partnerships Between Employers and Community and Technical Colleges: Observations and Recommendations. The report resulted from a study conducted as part of a project entitled Studying the Motivation, Perceived Benefits, and Return on Investment of Employer Engagement in Career Pathways Programs. The project’s overarching purpose was to better understand how employer engagement impacts the development of career pathways. The study was led by CORD as a companion project to the ECMC Foundation-funded Advancing Credentials through Career Pathways initiative. Social Policy Research Associates (SPR) served as a strategic partner for the study’s evaluation design components.

The study team collected and analyzed data regarding employers’ engagement in career-technical programs by asking the following questions.

  • What are the motivating factors and perceived benefits for employers to initially engage with the career-technical programs of their local community/technical colleges?

  • What benefits have employers realized from their engagement with the career-technical programs of their local community/technical colleges?

  • What factors can contribute to sustained employer engagement in career-technical programs?

  • What relationship, if any, exists between a community or technical college’s ability to effectively design, implement, and sustain training programs that meet a community’s workforce development needs and the frequency, depth, and quality of the interactions and resulting relationships with local employers?

The study reflected the premise that, although employers and colleges have different priorities, the two entities can help themselves by helping one another, that is, by partnering. “The quality of the partnership between a college and its employer partners greatly influences both student opportunities and employer access to high-quality job candidates,” said CORD’s Dr. Richard Hinckley, who led the study.

“Employers, by and large, welcome opportunities to partner with colleges,” the report notes. “But to make that happen, colleges need to take the initiative—the proverbial ball is in their court. Of course, many colleges have already taken that initiative … [but] the dizzying pace of technological change calls for ever-closer alignment between what goes on in the classroom and what graduates will be called upon to do in the workplace.”

Employers see engagement with the colleges as a way to improve their ability to recruit strong candidates. “If we’re looking at hard numbers, there’s one way we can clearly see the return on investment” [in engagement with the colleges], said Cory Phillips, Plant Manager at Siemens. “That’s the ability to recruit skilled machinists into our business—and not just skilled machinists, but people who are coming out of school with the capabilities to grow into skilled machinists, welders, and maintenance technicians.”

Although the study’s findings revealed some challenges, they predominantly provide good news. Survey results and interviews indicated that employers welcomed opportunities for deeper engagement with colleges and that colleges would see real benefits in inviting that engagement. “Colleges that actively work to deepen their engagement and partnerships with employers benefit from real-time industry contributions to curricula and career pathways, and increased hiring of program graduates,” noted SPR’s Laura Aron.

Some of the report’s key takeaways include the following:

  • Employers see their affiliated colleges as their first sources of talent and view positive relations with colleges as essential to their own success.

  • Employer engagement with colleges increases worker productivity and reduces costs associated with turnover, training and retraining, onboarding for new hires, and time-loss accidents.

The study notes that employers and college personnel involved in partnerships based on the Business and Industry Leadership Team (BILT) model expressed more enthusiasm for their collaboration and enjoyed stronger results. Participation in such teams took more time and effort than conventional advisory committees, the researchers were told, but the benefits (both short- and long-term) made the effort worthwhile. (The Pathways to Innovation project offers resources for getting started with the BILT model.)

The report concludes with key takeaways identified through the study. The lessons can be used to inform employer conversations in any sector. By initiating contact, positioning themselves as a community resource, and communicating in a timely, consistent manner with employers, colleges can lay the foundation for a durable collaborative process that serves their own interests as well as the interests of their employer partners, while greatly enhancing the education and career outcomes of their students.

Download the full report from the CORD website.