4 Ways Employers Can Become All Stars with Local Trade Schools

Manufacturing Tech Example

When employers and skilled trade schools have a healthy relationship, everyone benefits. Employers hire trade school students, but they’re also vital to designing curriculum, staying on top of industry trends, demonstrating pathways to students, and donating materials.

Yet — in our survey, we found it was often unclear to employers how they should get involved with their local trade schools. In fact, some employers confessed they didn’t always know local trade schools were operating in their area.

Here are four ways employers can best work with trade schools.

1. Get Involved Early

“Unfortunately, [some employers] think if they call in April that they can hire their May graduates,” says Olaf Wick of Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College. “You need to start in October, courting, to have any luck filling positions.”

Most important – get involved early in the school year, not just in May. By having a few touches in the fall semester, schools and employers will be primed for a fruitful Spring. A great way to do this is to facilitate shop visits for students. Shop visits get the ball rolling on student-employer relationships and increase student buy-in by showing them what they are working towards.

“[Employers] are all getting smart: they call early,” adds Barry Knight at Rogers Heritage High School in Arkansas.

2. Hire Part Time

Hiring students part-time benefits everyone. Students get real-world experience to complement their classroom learning, and employers get a good sense for whether that student’s a fit for their shop well before making a full-time commitment. Many students need to work to make ends meet anyway, and so part-time work at a shop creates an ideal situation for them.

“What works is employers who hire part-time,” says Wick. “They can take a look and see how they work. Students can see what it’s like. Most are employable after their 1st semester.”

3. Donate

Many schools function at the limits of their budget and can use all the help they can get with additional materials and equipment. Employers can alleviate this pain by donating equipment, materials and funds — just make sure it’s the current equipment, not the old stuff you’re not using anymore.

“I get a $5K budget for materials, which essentially covers the disposable things. I spent close to $70K, because I got $65K in sponsorships, grants, etc,” says Instructor Luke Becker of Braham High School in Minnesota.

4. Join the industry board

Every school has a board of advisors from local industry. This board often meets just twice a year, but these meetings are crucial to designing curriculum that’s up-to-date with today’s industry needs. Ever hear an employer complain that today’s graduates just don’t have the skills they need? Tell that employer to get on their local trade school’s industry board. That’s where these decisions are made.

Staying in Touch with Industry Contacts

Industry Connections at Lansing Factory

Good industry contacts are the lifeblood of a good skilled trade training program and having a method for managing contacts is the only sure way to keep those systems fresh. The best programs combine a consistent human touch with a system to keep track of contacts and not let potentially valuable connections fall by the wayside. In this post, we will explore some methods we found in our survey of training programs for keeping in touch with employers and alumni.

There are certain benchmarks a school can use to evaluate their outreach. One staff member devoted to outreach for every 50 students is a good rule of thumb. Fewer than that tends to overburden what outreach staff a school does have, and makes it difficult for them to give each connection their due. While email newsletters help to stay in touch, personalized conversations are what really drive initial relationships. Ongoing two-way conversations keep schools up to date on industry needs while keeping companies up to date on relevant school updates. This allows a school to become the solution to an industry’s needs.

“I bet we visited with one or two businesses a week that were desperate because they couldn’t find a diesel tech, says Debra Shephard of the Lake Area Technical Institute. “We developed a playbook to explain all the things that we can do to help solve this problem. You have to be responsible for the long-term solution.”

How should a school keep track of contacts and most recent touches? There are a number of tools. Two that we recommend looking into are HighRise and MailChimp so you have all of your contact information and contact in one place.

These systems have a bit of a learning curve, but the time spent getting comfortable with your contact manager will come back to you many times over. Staying organized streamlines the transition process when an outreach staff member leaves or changes positions. A good system also helps minimize growing pains when a school grows in size or just helps alleviate one of instructors many responsibilities.

“All my jobs came through contacts, personal connection even though I was union,” recalls Tim Shoemaker, an Instructor at Long Beach City College. “There’s a lot of work outside the classroom.”

A good contact management system has the huge side benefit of making it easier for schools to keep track of their alumni. Alumni are an invaluable resource for learning about employers and their needs. Those that get promoted into a hiring role become an ideal industry contact.

Any school, regardless of size or age, would do well to take a good look at their current system for keeping track of their contact ecosystem. Does this system serve your needs? If there is room for improvement, is the answer to make better use of your current system or develop a new one? Thoughtful, detailed answers to these questions can provide action steps to setting your program up for long term success.

(Oh, and WorkHands can help with all of this too — connecting your industry partners, alumni, and students all in one place. Interested? Sign up to find out more.)