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.)

Best Practices for Skilled Trade Training Programs

Electrician training

Skilled trade training programs are vital to developing skills in students entering the trades and helping to close the skills gap, but what makes a great training program? What’re best practices for skilled trade training programs? What do the best training programs do differently? We set out to answer these questions by surveying 50 programs across the country about how they connect with students, alumni, and industry partners. Through these conversations, we found patterns that go across locations and school types, from community colleges and high schools to apprenticeships and workforce development programs.

We identified the biggest pain points and best practices of the programs training trade workers around the country. The best programs form the center of a community with benefits on all ends of the spectrum, including current students, alumni, and employers. It all starts with the communication in this network.

What’s often overlooked in today’s programs is the importance of removing uncertainty for students entering skilled trades careers. Put simply from a welding student in California,

“I’m not sure where I’ll wind up after this,”

Many students don’t know the pathway from their program to a thriving skilled trade career, so great programs are key to making this clear. They do this with constant connections to employers, shop visits, and more — all components to a well educated trade student that go beyond skills education.

One of the best ways to demonstrate pathways to current students is a tight alumni network. Alumni are invaluable for hiring opportunities and inside knowledge of employers. Establishing a system for staying in touch is one of the best steps programs can take to ensure the success of future cohorts– not to mention they’re a great resource for filling instructor positions at training programs.

As for employers, many schools rely on personal connections to build and maintain these crucial relationships, but they require an unreasonable amount of work from already overburdened instructors.

“We don’t have anything other than me passing on a job opportunity,” said one school administrator.

The best schools combine this hands-on touch with a system to identify matches between hiring companies and available graduates, systematically involving employers at every step of their program.

We asked all of these questions, and more, in our quest to identity how the best training programs operate, and how WorkHands can help. In the coming weeks, we’ll roll out key findings for each side that engages with training programs so stay tuned… And if you want to tell us more about what your training program’s doing to be successful, we’d love to hear from you.