Are You Engaging With Quality Employers Deeply Enough to Understand Their Needs and Develop Strong Relationships?

Participants in workforce development programs are more likely to achieve placement and retention outcomes if the programs are actively engaging with area businesses that have job opportunities commensurate with participants’ skills as well as a path for advancement. Active engagement—especially meeting employers at their place of business and discussing their challenges— increases programs’ understanding of the industry needs and work environments they need to prepare participants for.  Communicating how the program can address employer needs—and then knowing that program services are actually doing that—is key to building the deeper relationships that can lead to increased hiring and better job retention. 

Implement and Track Employer Engagement Activities

While regularly contacting businesses about their hiring needs is an important activity of workforce development programs, employers are more likely to consider program applicants if they are engaged in other ways with the program.  Staff at a variety of program levels (e.g., executive director, employment specialist or job developer, skills instructor) should deepen connections with employers through these kinds of activities: 

  • Informal networking opportunities such as career fairs, professional or industry association meetings, and other community or business events. These offer a way to establish initial connections, learn about specific industries and position your program as a potential business resource.
  • Site visits to employer facilities—by both program staff and participants—to understand the company’s particular work environment, skill needs and challenges, and to meet those in supervisory roles.  Physically being in the space and observing the work allows program staff to better prepare participants; having the chance to travel and visit an employer site gives participants invaluable insights about what to expect and whether they would be a good “fit.”
  • Regular feedback mechanisms such as surveys, interviews or focus groups for employers to provide input to your program curriculum and give specific feedback on their satisfaction with participants they interview or hire.
  • Program volunteer opportunities that bring employers into closer contact with your participants, staff and other involved businesses, e.g., mock interviews, guest presentations or offering job-shadowing or internship experiences.
  • Involvement in advisory boards or other task forces that regularly engage employers with their peers in making the program more effective for the long-term.

In all of these activities it is important to help employers understand the “value add” your program can bring to them as a result of their engagement with you—including reduced time and expense for them because of the quality of your applicants and your follow-up with new hires. Some may also see added value in being engaged because it increases their public relations profile in the community or provides professional development opportunities for their employees. 

Manage Employer Engagement Activities and Monitor the Results

It is important for program managers to monitor and discuss with staff which employers are being engaged, how often and in what ways—as well as what the results of that engagement are in terms of job leads for participants, successful placements and other program support.  

A sample Employer Engagement Tracking Tool is included on this site. When using a tool like this, here are some questions to consider and discuss with staff:

  • What results for our participants are we seeing from the various employers we’ve targeted over the past year (number of job leads, interviews, number of hires, average wage, number of hires retained over time)?
  • Are we engaging the employers who are most likely to have appropriate openings for our participants (in terms of skill needs, wages and growth opportunities)?
  • Which employers need more engagement? Why? What type of activity would make most sense?
  • If a particular relationship is very important, are we making connections with multiple people within the business so that we don’t lose the relationship if one key person leaves? Where do we need to establish connections at a higher level?
  • Are we getting feedback regularly enough about how our participants perform in interviews or on the job? If not, how could this be done more easily?  
  • What “type” of contacts are we using to get that feedback?  Is it face-to-face contact at the worksite?  A phone call? A survey?
  • Are we seeing better results from employers that are more actively engaged? (Remember that results might also include financial or in-kind support for the program, advocacy in the larger community, etc.)?

Surveys / Assessments


Resources Cited

Maguire, S., Freely, J., Clymer, C., Conway, M., and Schwartz, D. (2010). Tuning In to Local Labor Markets: Findings from the Sectoral Employment Impact Study. Philadelphia, PA: Public/Private Ventures.

Miller, C., Bos, J., Porter, K., Tseng, F., and Abe, Y. (2005). The Challenge of Repeating Success in a Changing World: Final Report on the Center for Employment Training Replication Sites. New York: MDRC.

Koralek, R., Johnson, H., Ratcliffe, C., and Vericker, T. (2010). Assisting Newcomers Through Employment and Support Services: An Evaluation of the New American Centers Demonstration Project in Arkansas and Iowa. Washington, DC: The Urban Institute.

Workforce Strategies Initiative. (2004). Building Communications Capacity: Sector Programs Share Their Experiences. Washington, DC: The Aspen Institute.

Kelly, J.S., Wavelet, M., Rowser, S., Molina, F., and Berin, D. (2004). Practical Tips and Tools to Strengthen Your ERA Program: A Technical Assistance Guide for the Employment Retention and Advancement Project. New York: MDRC. Retrieved 2/6/12 from US Department of Health and Human Services.