Organizations and agencies running programs to help participants find jobs often hear the mantra of employer engagement. To help participants get jobs, it is necessary to engage employers. But in many ways, the term “employer engagement” is the black box of workforce program services. It is where all the answers lie, but no one knows what is in the black box. And for many SWFI grantees, engaging employers can also be one of the biggest challenges.

To address this challenge, it is useful to think about the goals for engaging employers and the specific strategies or activities connected to each goal. Sure, employer engagement can be about job development and placement, but robust relationships with employers involve a much more intentional and strategic approach.

In Goals and Dimensions of Employer Engagement (Spaulding and Martin-Caughey 2015), we set out to identify the goals of employer engagement and the different ways in which employers can be engaged in programs. Although the ultimate goal of employer engagement is to get people jobs, there are also many intermediate objectives of employer engagement activities. These can include building knowledge of industries and occupations, helping participants gain appropriate skills and experience, establishing credibility and access to employer networks, effecting change for workers, and generating resources for the organization.

Depending on the goals for employer engagement, there are different implications for the kinds of activities in which you might engage employers. Key activities include the following:

  • Oversight—Getting employers to serve on a governing or advisory board can be one way to get information on employer’s needs, but this also can be used to realize other employer engagement goals, like tapping into employer networks or generating resources for the organization.

  • Program design—Employers can provide direct feedback on curricula or program structure in an oversight capacity.

  • Program delivery—Employers can help deliver critical aspects of a program, such as work experience opportunities, or can play small roles in program delivery like conducting mock interviews or making classroom presentations on what it is like to work in their sector.

  • Recruitment and hiring—A primary activity for grantees is to get employers to hire participants, but employers can be engaged in various ways, including notifying grantees of job openings or agreeing to review applications from program graduates.

  • Financial or In-Kind Resources—Beyond contributing money to an organization, employers can offer in-kind resources like equipment so that students can learn on the latest technology or in appropriate space, and be more connected to the work environment.

Although employer engagement is a challenge, there are many resources out there to help grantees understand and address this challenge!