Step Two: Identify Partners

Employers are the most important partners in any sector initiative because the partnership is built around their needs. To meet their needs, intermediaries must recruit the right mix of service providers that are knowledgeable about the industry, as well as the workers and resources in a region.

Some sector initiative intermediaries initially recruit a small group of stakeholders, heavily weighted toward employers, to act as an advisory group.

Key industry “champions” (defined as employers that see the worth and potential of a sector partnership, and speak on its behalf) can be the key to success during the early phases of an emerging sector partnership.

The exact mix of partners will depend on the region, the industry, and the types of organizations available. Here's a sample membership list of sector partners of an actual sector initiative.

To get the right mix of partners, ask: Which stakeholders in the community should take part, or who could be a resource in this effort? For example, who is currently working to match workforce needs in this industry with workers? Which employers in the industry are best positioned to guide the partnership’s activities? Who besides employers can bring knowledge of the industry? Who can bring knowledge of the region’s available labor force? To help answer these questions, consider the following list.


Employers are partners, drivers of the initiative, and customers. As such, they play a unique role in a sector partnership. Sector initiatives should attempt to engage as many employers as possible within the target industry and defined geographic region. Of those employers, the partnership should be driven by a set of industry leaders (such as Presidents and CEOs of companies) that are energized by the potential to overcome particular workforce barriers to competitiveness, and committed to working with the partnership to develop solutions. Such employers are often called business champions, particularly when they are active in the promotion of the sector initiative. This does not happen on its own, but requires the intermediary to actively pursue input, make the case for involvement, and encourage engagement.

Industry and Trade Associations

Industry and Trade Associations should also be engaged. They bring valuable expertise of the industry, can open doors to other employers within the industry that are not yet engaged, and can help spread the word about the sector partnership and its goals.

Economic Development Agencies

Economic Development Agencies are important partners in local sector initiatives because they likely have their finger on the pulse of local industry needs, risks for job loss, and potential new companies moving into a region. Sector initiatives are increasingly being used as part of state and regional business retention and recruitment strategies.

Public Workforce System

The Public Workforce System should actively be involved in order to use existing resources that bring employers and workers together. Local systems may already be addressing employer needs in the target industry, and could therefore serve as knowledgeable partners.

Educational Institutions

Educational Institutions are responsible for providing training for the current and future workforce, and are therefore keys to any region’s economic vitality if their curriculum, degrees, and credentials remain relevant to the needs of industry for good workers, and the needs of workers for good jobs. Sector partnerships should therefore include representatives from regional community colleges, technical colleges, universities, and the K-12 school system. Private training providers should also be considered.

Organized Labor

Organized Labor can have significant influence on training, worker recruitment, retention, and contracts. If they play a role in your region and/or target industry, a labor representative should be included as a partner.

Human Service Agencies

Human Service Agencies are increasingly a critical partner in local efforts to transition workers into training and job advancement opportunities. Sector initiatives often address labor shortages of entry-level workers, or discover a need to “backfill” entry-level positions after removing previously identified bottlenecks of incumbent worker advancement. For these reasons, the human service sector becomes important to provide support services and resources to low-income, low-skilled worker populations as they upgrade their skills and secure jobs.

Community- or Faith-based Organizations

Community- or Faith-based Organizations exist in many forms, and depending on their mission could be an invaluable partner in a sector partnership. This might include, for example, a private foundation or a non-profit organization that targets a certain population of workers. They can bring valuable knowledge about the particular needs of worker populations.

Local and State Elected Officials

Local and state elected officials often have a deep interest in supporting a particular industry or worker constituency group. Fully engaging them as a partner in the initiative’s development, or keeping them fully informed are both advantageous to the sector initiative’s success.


Other entities, depending on the needs of the industry, should be considered. Some sector initiatives involve transportation and housing agencies, for example.

Characteristics of Members

In addition to the above categories of partners, a convener may want to consider the following mix of characteristics and individuals in the partnership:


Regardless of what category of member they fit into, in any region there are specific individuals who will be important to engage, because they have the power to influence others. These include “do-ers” – people with a reputation for getting things done, “naysayers” – people who will rally others against the partnership if they are not brought on board, and “politicos” – those with formal or informal political influence who can garner support for your work.


Partnerships need information. Consider bringing on board individuals or entities who can help provide and make meaning of information and data. These include organizations that specialize in data and analysis generally and also subject matter/ industry experts. Many partnerships have engaged retired industry leaders who have substantial knowledge and experience. These individuals can act as a strong but unbiased resource for the partnership.


Across categories, think about the presence of decision-makers or at least those who have the ear of decision-makers in their organization. It doesn’t matter how many great ideas your partnership comes up with if there’s a lack of authority to put those plans into action.