PHASES OF BUSINESS ENGAGEMENT
The figure below demonstrates the Ladder of Business Engagement, developed by Jobs for the Future for use with community colleges and adapted by the JD-VRTAC for VR. The “ladder” indicates the possible progression of relationships between VR agencies and businesses, and emphasizes the distinctions among different kinds of engagement. As we know, not all businesses will become strategic partners, but we aspire to develop all contacts into working relationships. Following the figure, roles for VR and business are briefly defined.
FIGURE 1. LADDER OF BUSINESS ENGAGEMENT
The following video and those you will find in the Key Roles for Business and VR section, illustrate all of the phases of business relationships. READI-Net, the business relations program at the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services, is led by Peggy Anderson, Administrator of Business Relations. Peggy will explain the long established program in Alabama and introduce you to the keys to successful relationships in all phases of business engagement.
|Key business & VR roles||Advising||Capacity-building||Program-designing||Convening||Leading|
|Stage of relationship||Initial contact / new relationship||Establishing trust and credibility||Working relationship||Trusted provider and collaborator||Full strategic partner|
|What happens at that stage||
VR and business get to know each other. VR learns business hiring needs, staff competencies, work environment, range of jobs, etc.
One–to-one or group information gathering.
VR & business respond to one another’s needs.
VR enlists business’s help with job site tours, speakers, mock interviews, internships, needs assessment, etc.
Collaborating to build a pathway to meet business and VR client needs.
VR and business collaborate strategically to bring together multiple business and workforce partners.
Business, in partnership with VR, advocates to promote a workforce system that is inclusive of people with disabilities.
1 Figure adapted from A Resource Guide to Engaging Employers, by Randall Wilson, Jobs for the Future, 2015. The continuum concept of “new,” “working,” and “strategic” relationships with business is adapted from Corporate Voices for Working Families, 2012, Business and Community College Partnerships: A Blueprint.
Defining Key Roles of Business and VR
Level 1: Advising
In the most basic form of business engagement, businesses are consulted informally about their hiring or training needs through interviews or surveys in a sector or region. More formally, businesses are represented on advisory boards for policy or program development.
Where advisors are engaged more strategically, VR shifts from seeking short-term “input” or job placements to collaborating with businesses to understand workforce challenges and support the success of businesses, VR consumers, and communities.
Level 2: Capacity-building
VR professionals and businesses respond to one another’s needs: VR provides customized training and skilled job candidates to individual firms; employers assist with mock interviews, mentoring, work experience sites, and apprenticeships or internships.
Level 3: Program-designing
The business shifts from being a passive advisor to an active collaborator with the state VR agency and partners on workforce initiatives, including design of new training programs, grant funding, and design of career pathways.
Level 4: Convening
VR professionals recruit and convene businesses and their associations as substantive, ongoing participants in addressing workforce needs. At a more intensive level, VR serves as a hub or broker of workforce collaboration with businesses and other education, training, and placement providers.
Level 5: Leading
At the most intensive level, VR, colleges, businesses, and other stakeholders build partnerships that transform local or regional workforce systems and enhance the growth of targeted industries or sectors. Some of the most effective and long-lasting regional and national partnerships are led by industry representatives.
Levels adapted from A Resource Guide to Engaging Employers, by Randall Wilson, Jobs for the Future, 2015.
The Ladder of Business Engagement offers a framework for a VR agency to assess its current relationships and aspirations for building toward future strategic partnerships with businesses. The following are a few questions for each level of engagement that might prompt leadership to further explore opportunities at each level.
- How does your state plan or strategic plan address business engagement or business services?
- As a director, how are you directly involved with the key employers in your state?
- What is your agency’s process for receiving input from businesses on job openings and skill needs?
- How do you receive ongoing feedback from the business community regarding your agency’s capacity to meet their hiring and/or support needs?
- How is your agency structured to meet the needs of local businesses?
- Who is involved in the process of identifying and meeting business needs?
- How do you keep track of business engagement activities?
- How is business engagement and business services information shared throughout the agency
- Do you share goals for specific outcomes with businesses in your state? (e.g., business and VR have identified a common goal to develop certain technical or soft skills curricula in the workplace)
- How are businesses incorporated in your planning to meet legislative mandates?
- How have you included input from businesses or other partners on designing customized training to meet their needs?
- How frequently do you meet with businesses to establish or act upon common goals for a diverse workforce?
- How do you work with business partners to bring together other businesses and/or workforce partners in a collaborative approach to meeting shared needs?
- How frequently do these gatherings occur? And are such activities regularly scheduled, or left to chance?
- Do businesses invite you or your agency to join boards or membership groups?
- What kinds of multi-business partnerships is your agency involved with?
- How do model employers that you work with identify and support current and future workers with disabilities?
- Have you established formal structures and agreements to guide your relationship with employers?
- Have you and your business partners held any events to recognize disability inclusion in the workplace?
- If you recognize leadership capacity in a business in your state, how do you make the most of that potential?
These questions provide guidance in developing an approach to business engagement. They are a starting place, and should lead to deeper probing and analysis of the agency’s effectiveness as a business partner.
In addition, the 32nd Institute on Rehabilitation Issues offers a maturity scales model that has application to self-assessment of business engagement and support. The maturity scales include 1) Approach, 2) Deployment, 3) Learning, and 4) Integration, and these four maturity levels can be applied to any specific area of business relationships and support.
The general self-assessment questions related to the maturity scales are:
- Approach: Do you have a plan?
- Deployment: How is the plan set in motion?
- Learning: How can you incorporate continuous improvement in your approach and deployment?
- Integration: Are business engagement plans and actions aligned with other business processes in your organization?
As you learn about structures, functions, roles, and competencies for business engagement and support, these questions may help you design and improve your activities and outcomes.
SOME QUESTIONS FOR DIGGING DEEPER
Approach: Do you have clearly stated goal for your agency’s business engagement activities? Do you have a plan for implementing your business engagement goals? How will VR counselors be involved in business engagement?
Deployment: Do you have dedicated staff responsible for business engagement? Do they have time to perform business engagement activities? Do their job descriptions include their business engagement responsibilities? Do you have an effective mechanism for sharing job opportunities and other business needs throughout your agency? Do you have an effective system for posting qualified, available job seekers across the agency?
Learning: Is there training established to assist in developing business relations competencies? How can intra-agency communication strategies be improved if they are less than effective?
Integration: Do performance appraisals include the evaluation of business engagement activities? Is useful labor market information getting to your VR counselors? Are counselors using that information to inform clients about career options in the development of their IPE goals? Are all levels of leadership/management incorporating business needs in their unit goals?
Again, these questions are not exhaustive. They are provided to assist in developing an agency-wide approach to business engagement and support. As these questions are answered, new ones will evolve. For VR to become a trusted collaborator and strategic partner with business, we must never stop questioning and striving for attainable answers.