Engaging Employer Partners- Are You the Right Fit?

By Anne Berrigan

dependable02(02)Let’s face it–attracting and keeping employers connected and engaged in youth employment or internship programs isn’t easy, but it’s key to success. Whether you work in a school or community-based organization, your ability to keep employers happy could depend on an attitude shift. You may have to stop asking what employers can do for your students and start learning how to keep partners coming back as customers.  We spent time with industry leaders in hospitality, health care, manufacturing, and retail sectors as part of a state advisory group to find out what employers want out of a partnership with teen/young adult programs. Here’s what we learned.

Employers value and seek young employees when they know they are work ready and have institutions (i.e., schools, CBO’s) that support and stand behind them.  For this to happen, schools and youth employment programs must become a trusted source of hiring referrals for local employers.  Trust is developed by having well prepared young people with the soft skills employers want.  You also need to have strategies in place for building and managing relationships with employers. Here are some core takeaways and tools for building the trust it takes to get employers on board.

Employers want quality Interactions, not a fast sell. Just because you have grant money to develop a program doesn’t mean that employers will want in. Many employers can view teens and young adults as more of a liability than an asset.  In meetings with employers don’t lead with your program accomplishments; be prepared to do more listening than talking.  And be ready with answers to the following questions that employers pose:

  • How do you screen candidates for our jobs?
  • What curriculum are you using to train candidates? (Click here to learn more about the Signal Success Curriculum )
  • Do you have a focused commitment area (i.e., entry-level retail)?
  • What follow up do you provide? Can you do on-site coaching if needed?
  • What’s the exit strategy if the relationship is not a fit? For the youth candidate?  For the organization?
  • Who else are you involved with? Do you have referrals?

You want to come across as a learning organization. Your program will be better positioned if you can show that you understand industry/business needs.  Employers will want to know about industry partners you already have on board and what relationships you have with local workforce boards and post-secondary education or training organizations.

Don’t propose before going on a date.  There are a range of roles that employers can play for programs.  Have you considered using job shadows and working interviews (an interview process that includes a paid trial day or period)?  These interactions come before hires.

For a deeper dive, take a look at the following resources:


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