Colleges Must Improve Their Employer Partnerships. Here Is How.

College presidents and workforce leaders should implement these strategies to take their industry advisory committees to the next level.
Blog Post
Oct. 6, 2022

Many employers turn to their local community colleges for customized training, upskilling, and non-degree workforce training, but colleges shouldn’t take employer engagement for granted.

As workforce needs grow and enrollment crunches ripple throughout traditional higher education, more employers are being approached by new workforce training players including 4-year institutions, non-profits, for-profits, and unions, while others have expanded their own workforce credentials. The primary way colleges systematically engage employers is through industry advisory committees. Committees help program staff align curricula with employer needs and keep a pulse on a variety of industry trends.

Some committees advise an entire college while others are focused on an industry area, like manufacturing or healthcare, while others still are focused on one or a small handful of specific program offerings in which the employers have specific expertise. These committees are an invaluable structure for colleges to prove to employers that they’re the optimal partner for workforce training, but the problem is that the quality and consistency of engagement of the committees can vary greatly.

Some colleges will only convene their committees of a dozen or so individuals a few times a year for an hour or so–rarely enough time to stay on top of fast-moving trends. Other committees are built exclusively on personal relationships that may be jeopardized when the convener leaves the institution, especially concerning as more than half of higher education workers hope to leave the industry over the next year.

Committee membership might be appointed by deans, vice presidents, or the president but administered by workforce program staff or faculty, resulting in awkward dynamics between the committee of advisors, the college professionals receiving the advice, and their bosses.

These are only a few of the many challenges colleges have reported around running and utilizing advisory committees. That’s why it’s essential that college presidents and workforce leaders standardize and enhance the quality and consistency of advisory committees across the college.

Standardized Industry Advisory Committees Across a College Improves Workforce Outcomes

Pima Community College implemented the use of an advisory committee handbook and staff training to accomplish this very goal.

“While every industry sector has its own unique set of nuances, a standardized process for industry engagement ensures that employers' voices remain central to our program design.” Ian Roark, Pima Vice Chancellor of Workforce Development & Innovation, told me, who lead the process reform. “We colleges need to report out less and listen more, and a process that is designed to let the employer speak and for the college to listen can further enhance alignment to meet business and industry needs.”

The nearly 42-page handbook is organized into five sections that help the college ensure a clear and high-quality experience for the staff and employers:

  1. Purpose: Explaining the purpose and roles of faculty, staff, and administration in advisory committees’ administration; clarifying the programs that should have an Advisory Committee.
  2. Membership Guidelines: Establishes a consistent and equitable process for identifying qualified advisory committee members, membership terms, responsibilities, and best practices for maintaining a successful committee.
  3. Meetings, recordkeeping, and reporting: Clarifies important protocols about meeting preparation, notetaking, keeping track of goal completions, and appointment processes.
  4. About Pima: Includes consistent language about the college, accreditation, the district and governance process, the strategic direction of the college, and advisory committee policies.
  5. Appendix: Includes templates, and a glossary of key terms, critical for helping employers understand the lingo of higher education and to ensure that the college’s workforce components are communicated accurately and consistently.

Evidence-Informed Strategies to Run Industry Advisory Committees

In addition to a standardized advisory committee experience for employers and college leaders, colleges can also use specialized employer advising techniques within their advisory board structure. At the early stage of creating a new program, advisory committees could utilize the Developing a Curriculum (DACUM) Occupational Analysis which combines the best of focus group input gathering and the best of a facilitated storyboarding process to capture the tasks, skills, and knowledge required for a job.

The Business & Industry Leadership (BILT) model, which was developed by the National Science Foundation-funded National Convergence Technology Center as an Advanced Technical Education National Center of Excellence, emphasizes specific practices committees could use like co-leading meetings and increasing meeting frequency to improve the effectiveness of the advising structure. Colleges can review this introduction video to the seven essentials of BILT and an in-depth orientation video to implement BILT at their institutions.

College presidents across the nation should consider using all three strategies, either independently or combined, to help their institution improve its industry reputation, improve its program quality, and stand out from the competition as the ideal partner for employers to enlist for their workforce training needs.

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Shalin Jyotishi is a Senior Analyst on Education and Labor at New America and a Fellow in AI the World Economic Forum covering higher education, the workforce, tech, and policy. Connect with Shalin on Twitter and LinkedIn. Read his Forbes column.

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