Engaging Industry - Who and When

Who Should be Engaged? (And When?)

In determining which specific employers or industry representatives to engage, you need to consider both what and when. The what refers to what the nature of the industry is, what you need to learn from them, and what actions you need them to take. The when refers to the stage in your sector partnership’s development.

In general...

  • CEO’s tend to like “visioning” about the overall industry, something they don’t get to do on an everyday basis nor with peer business leaders
  • HR Leaders will know about specific vacancies/turnover
  • Front-line supervisors or plant managers will know about specific skill-education-knowledge needs or the impact of technological advances on work processes
  • Front-line workers can best describe the day-to-day work activities and skill needs of a particular position
  • Industry association leaders can bring a broad perspective about what they are hearing from their members

Levels of enthusiasm by industry members (and other stakeholders) will wax and wane over the course of a sector initiative. A typical enthusiasm lifecycle might look like this:

But what you really want is something that looks like this:

One important way to sustain enthusiasm is to engage the right people at the right time. In the beginning, it’s important to engage CEOs and other executive management, because they have the authority to involve their company, and the high level/ big picture knowledge about issues facing their industry. But once you start getting into the “weeds” of project development and implementation, you need to engage with department and HR managers who have time and interest in doing some of the heavy lifting needed to see an idea through to actuality. Then, once things are well institutionalized, senior staff may be tasked with the maintenance aspects of the initiative.

Different industry structures or workforce challenges may also call for different points of employer engagement, and you should understand what you want to learn from employers before engaging them. This will help you identify what level of the employer to engage. For example:

Is the industry made up of few large firms, or many small ones?

  • CEO’s of large organizations may or may not know how many vacancies they have in a particular occupation, but they may be able to help identify emerging trends that will impact their industry.

Is there a supplier chain in the area?

  • You may want and need to engage employers from all along the chain.

Are challenges primarily related to turnover or recruitment?

  • Human Resource Directors will be key in understanding the root causes of that problem, but may not be as aware of the industry’s impending trends, and may also not know about key work tasks truly performed at the line worker level.

Is the industry unionized?

  • You may want to reach out to representatives of labor as well as management.

As a benchmark, a general rule of thumb for employer representation in a sector partnership is two-thirds (i.e. 2/3 employers in the industry, and 1/3 other partners).

You may not get a second chance to make a first impression. Asking the right questions at the right level will be key to your long-term success.

Source: Portions adapted from the Anatomy of a Skills Panel Presentation by the WA Workforce Education and Training Board

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