Ford Next Generation Learning: Unlocking the Power of Partnerships
Strong partnerships between business and educators can prove a powerful tool in developing the workforce of tomorrow. During an online workshop, CEWD members recently learned how Ford Next Generation Learning (NGL) develops such partnership – and heard some valuable take-aways about what the organization has learned from working with more than 400,000 students.
Cheryl Carrier, Executive Director for Ford Next Generation Learning, opened the workshop by noting the companies may be in various stages of developing partnerships with educators, but could all benefit from tools to help the deepen and strengthen those connections. She noted that everyone wants to have partnerships that are scalable, sustainable and efficient.
Exploring Ford’s Next Generation Learning and Powerful Partnerships
Cheryl Carrier joined us on People Powered!
“The first step is to build the why. Whether it’s a school district or a community or a business, this is where we start,”
“There’s really an art and a science to making these relationships work, especially when you take the long-term approach,” said Scott Palmer, a Ford NGL Community Coach. The first step, he said, was to “build the why,” referencing the importance of citing specific goals for the desired business/educator partnership. “Whether it’s a school district or a community or a business, this is where we start,” Palmer stressed. A shoot video clip highlighted issues that have become all too familiar for utility companies: the workforce is aging and there is a shortage of skilled workers to replace those retiring. The piece stressed the need for students to graduate better prepared to immediately enter the workforce and the challenge of teaching students the skills they would need to be successful in energy jobs.
Palmer explains there were three levels of engagement from the business side: Advocacy, the role of business leaders; Advising, the role of departmental or team leaders; and Assisting, the role of those who are “boots on the ground.”
Advocates, typically those in the C-suite, “have the ability to influence or call out policy changes that are needed” to make partnerships successful, he said. They also have access to company resources and data, along with the means for widely sharing success stories through high-level networks and media outlets. “They can allocate staff and resources to the partnership to show the company is invested.”
Those at the mid-level of a company, sometimes in Human Resources or Business Development, can play the role of advisors, working on industry councils at the regional or district level, Palmer said. “They are still one layer removed from the school, but can take the resources that the advocate has allocated and make sure those resources get into the schools equitably.” The advisors can help set up structures such as internships and teacher externships and share success stories with those above them a the C-suite level.
Those who assist in partnerships are the mid-level manager and team leaders who enter the classroom and work directly with teachers and students, Palmer said. They make sure the curriculum is current and up to industry standards, “preparing students for what you need as a company.”
“They have the ability to work with teachers and students to create authentic projects, problems and challenges, things that are relevant to the industry,” he said.
Jenn Edge, Ford NGL University Director, said powerful partnerships shared many traits, but chief among them was the focus on the ability to communicate, coordinate and collaborate.
“You see the transformation, when members are able to be open about what’s working and what’s not working,” she said. “It’s also important that the entire team – teachers, employers and other stakeholders – really own and monitor the partnership’s progress and measure the impact on students and the organization. Are you getting a skilled workforce? What does the data show?”
Powerful partnerships are also sustainable, diverse and inclusive, Edge said. “Be intentional about whoo you bring to the table.”
One of the most important traits of a successful partnership is that it be strategic, Carrier said. “You need to have conversations that say, ‘Here are our goals. What are yours?’ What’s remarkable is that when those conversations happen, you can start out with a small project and see that the relationship continues to grow from there. Before you know it, the partnership is so strong employers want to send their people into the classroom on a regular basis to work on these projects. It’s not only good fo the students, it’s good for you and your employees.”
There can be barriers to forming these partnerships, Palmer noted. These include a lack of purpose, lack of ownership, educators asking for money, missing partners, no clear connection as to how they are connected to work-based learning and the costs outweighing the benefits.
“If partnerships are to start, there has to be an advantage,” Edge advised. “Is it too complex? Start with something that is low on intensity. Make it an easy win. Demonstrate the value and the impact of what your are doing.”
“Most partnerships don’t have a blueprint for how to become sustainable,” she said, emphasizing that stakeholders need to have honest conversations about what is woking well, where there are gaps and how to fill those gaps in order to strengthen the connection and make sure everyone’s needs are being met.
It’s important that the entire team – teachers, employers and other stakeholders – really own and monitor the partnership’s progress and measure the impact on students and the organization. Are you getting a skilled workforce? What does the data show?
Before you know it, the partnership is so strong employers want to send their people into the classroom on a regular basis to work on these projects. It’s not only good fo the students, it’s good for you and your employees.
The four components of a good blueprint, she said, are to identify and develop partners and their capacity and readiness to engage; to implement and manage activities; documenting progress and ensuring the work is meaningful; to measure and improve the work through accountability and reporting, relying heavily upon data; and to sustain and scale the relationship, starting small and working to slowly expand the depth and breadth of the work.
Edge reminded the participants that team members may change along the way so it would be critical to include succession plans. That way, when key participants leave, others pick up where they left off.
In closing, Carrier urged participants to find champions at the upper levels of their companies to lead these partnerships and to engage in frank conversations with stakeholders about what each partner needed to be successful. “Build a plan, hold each other accountable and celebrate your successes,” she said.
CEWD members can find resources to help them build powerful partnerships in the Members Only section of the CEWD website.