University-business partnerships can shape college students’ career readiness

blogimage_CareerReadinessIn cross-sector collaborations involving government, business, and non-profit partners, business is sometimes thought to engage by contributing money or expertise to a pressing issue, perhaps as part of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) or a desire to assist its community, but without having a crucial stake in the issue. The issue of career readiness for college graduates, however, is one example where businesses have a clear stake in the solution — their success relies on the availability of a skilled workforce. Because of the investment that each sector has in the issue, career readiness is well-suited for intersector partnerships, particularly those involving strong private sector involvement.

A recent article by Pete Wheelan, CEO of Inside Track, looks at what each sector can contribute when businesses and universities come together to equip current college students with in-demand job market skills. According to Wheelan, business, government, and non-profits all have unique ways of adding value to collaborations for college student career readiness. Academic institutions have experience developing curriculum and instructional teaching, seasoned instructors, and state of the art research to contribute, he highlights. Businesses, meanwhile, can share knowledge of current and emerging needs for specific skills, provide hands on learning through internships and experiential learning opportunities, and lend technology to bolster student support offered by the affiliated institution. Additionally, governments and non-profits are mentioned as being able to bring in new partners and resources to the collaboration, and serve as neutral monitors of the collaboration’s work.

Take, for example, this case from our Case Library: In 2011 IBM partnered with the New York City Department of Education and the City University of New York (CUNY) to open Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH), a grades 9-14 school program designed to equip students with the skills needed to compete for high-growth jobs in Information Technology. CUNY helped steer development of curriculum to align with college credit requirements and provided professors to teach at P-TECH. IBM provided input into P-TECH’s curriculum to align with industry-sought skills and provided experiential learning opportunities such as internships and work site visits, along with mentorships and guest speakers. The DOE contributed space, administration, specialized knowledge of students needs, and pedagogical expertise in high school learning and curriculum.

In the article, Wheelan provides actionable advice to business leaders seeking to partner with academic institutions, urging them to meet not only with the university president, but also with heads of continuing education and online education, and with the alumni and career offices of the university. He also points to partners within government, such as state higher education officers. These multiple points of contact can result in a more sophisticated intersector partnership by providing more perspectives from diverse stakeholders to shape the collaboration.

Although each sector will have different motivations for entering into a collaboration for career readiness, shared goals can be identified and rallied around. This speaks to a tactic from The Intersector Project Toolkit — Share a Vision of Success. Agreeing on a set of project goals and ideal outcomes that clarify the mission and priorities of the collaboration is paramount when collaboration partners approach the partnership with sector-specific priorities. For example, business may prioritize the creation of products and services that optimize profit while, for non-profit partners, success may mean the creation of a program that benefits a target population. Sharing a vision of success ensures that each of these priorities is addressed. In the case of P-TECH, the Steering Committee began with a shared vision of P-TECH as a school from which students would graduate with an applied science degree and with workplace experience.This program would help address the future employment needs of young people, as well as the human capital needs of employers.