Danielle Mezera, Ph.D., is a Senior Policy Fellow for ExcelinEd focusing on innovation policies.
In today’s post, Dr. Danielle Mezera draws from ExcelinEd’s latest playbook series to share three ways to recruit the right stakeholders for state Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs.
The five-playbook series will provide state education leaders and local employers a practical guide for improving the “education to career” pipelines in their states. Check out the first two playbooks, and stay tuned for new releases in the series!
No other strand in K-12 education requires the ongoing engagement of a diverse set of stakeholders more than Career and Technical Education.
Because of this, what often distinguishes a strong state Career and Technical Education program from a mediocre program is the quality of stakeholders and their degrees of engagement in the process. Whether at the state level or at the regional and local levels, a strong state Career and Technical Education program is one that leverages stakeholder engagement in a manner that allows all parties to be successful in meeting their objectives.
However, whether it is a state agency or a community-based intermediary, stakeholder recruitment and engagement can be quite challenging, and even the best Career and Technical Education programs are not immune to struggles. So what steps can be taken at the beginning to better ensure stakeholder engagement is strong, resilient and purposeful in the support of state Career and Technical Education?
Below are three steps that state policymakers and community-based intermediaries can take to mitigate stakeholder engagement setbacks while pursuing robust career and technical education outcomes for their students and the workforce needs of their state.
Too often this essential first step is skipped, or only partially completed, by an intermediary before an invitation is being given to a desired stakeholder. Unfortunately, nothing torpedoes a well-meaning process more than an ill-defined rationale. As one intermediary shared with us for our playbook, “at the beginning, we just wanted voices, any voices; we didn’t realize until after we got started that half the representatives around the table were the wrong ones [for what we needed].”
By first establishing the why, how, what and when stakeholders are needed, a roadmap is essentially created for both the intermediary and all potential stakeholders that is clear and intentional. And it is this roadmap that frames and formalizes the process protocols that will drive the ongoing desired work and engagement.
For any ask, stakeholders want to know first what is being asked of them and why. By failing to articulate this on the frontend, much needed stakeholders may simply walk away. Given this, it is important to codify the planned process and their roles through different protocols that frame out the desired engagement. For some stakeholders, this may lead to very specific asks, while others may be recruited for ongoing, long-term engagement.
By having an articulated operational approach in place at the beginning, stakeholders are more likely to sign on. They are able to immediately understand the purpose and their role in achieving that purpose. And more importantly for some, they see how their engagement can benefit their specific needs. As one industry stakeholder noted in our playbook, “what sealed our decision to engage was the preciseness by which we were told what our engagement would be/look like. There was a cohesive plan, specific goals and specific processes laid out as to how the goals would be reached and where we were needed as a company.”
Success of a strong process comes through the committed engagement of its stakeholders. This is true at the state level, as well as at the regional and local levels. All too often, however, an intermediary’s reliance can inadvertently fall on the backs of a few committed stakeholders at the abdication of other stakeholders who also signed on to the process. When this occurs, it can lead rapidly to stakeholder burnout for some and stakeholder disengagement for others. For the intermediary, this situational dissolution can jeopardize any progress that has been made toward achieving the process’ broader intent.
For the long-term success of any process, an intermediary must make a conscious effort to tap and engage all of its recruited stakeholders. Even if this means having to entice a hesitant stakeholder to take on a needed task. As one intermediary shared, “[we began] being more direct with others who [weren’t] as involved. It’s the classic 20-80 rule. Twenty percent doing the heavy lifting for the other 80 percent. That had to change.
To achieve this level of intentionality, an intermediary needs to pursue ongoing communications and engagement that are specific to the needs of the process and the services and expertise of each stakeholder. Falling back into the familiar rhythm of easy asks will not lead to the equitable engagement of all stakeholders and the full success of the larger process.
At the K-12 level, a robust Career and Technical Education program requires an all-hands-on-deck approach to ensure the success of the program in not only meeting the educational needs of students, but also the specific needs of the state/regional labor markets. Successful execution of this three-pronged approach will ensure the right stakeholders are recruited and engaged at the right time and for the right purposes along the way.