The Promise of Partnerships: Engaging Industry to Improve Career Readiness 


Understanding the Promise of Partnerships

The dual influences of globalization and technology are causing the world and the workplace to change faster than ever, creating new demands in the knowledge, skills, and dispositions needed for career and life success. Goods, services, money, information, and people are flowing across national borders at rapid rates. This dramatically expanding free movement means production processes are increasingly shared across geographies (e.g., an American-made car may include components made in nine different countries) and cultural identities are being confronted and renegotiated. Digital technologies and applications are altering how products and services are created, marketed, distributed and consumed in the U.S. and globally. Around the world, routine work is being taken over by automation, with machines projected to carry out 42% of labor by 2022 in both advanced and developing countries.[i]

The disruptive impact on whole industries—and on requirements of jobs and careers—is enormous,[ii] with some experts estimating that 85% of the jobs that students today will be doing in 2030 have not yet been invented.[iii] The impact on expectations for our education system is significant, particularly for our high schools and postsecondary institutions. Technology-driven changes working their way through the economy require these institutions to think differently about what students need to know and be able to do to be adequately prepared for career and life success.

As the World Economic Forum puts it:

“The skills needed to work today change so fast that no education system can keep up with the constant need to reinvent how we work and live together. Most important, the radical changes in our society mean that young people need new kinds of skills, many of which are not even fully understood or codified for learning.”[iv]  

Generally, our schools are not equipped to respond effectively on their own. Our schools need help from stakeholders who have a better understanding of how well-paid, upwardly mobile careers are changing, the related skills and knowledge expected of new hires, and how best to develop and assess these skills. Among others, schools need meaningful opportunities to connect with and learn from employers and other experts from business and industry.

A recent Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) Task Force report underscores this point. Schools need to “enlist the employer community as a lead partner” in staying abreast of labor market shifts, adapting curricula to meet industry skill needs, and offering students authentic work-based learning experiences.

For high school students, regular and systematic engagement with employers offers advantages that schools alone have a hard time providing:

  1. A way for students to develop the necessary competencies for these careers.

  2. Connections with and exposure to adults outside school who can help with career advice and opportunities before and after graduation.

  3. “Real world” experiences that provide relevance and motivate students to pursue new-found interests.

Employers also benefit from partnerships with schools in myriad ways, including by expanding talent pipelines and ensuring new hires possess the desired key skills and competencies. But to fully access these benefits, industry leaders need to better understand the skills and competencies that the students are developing and how to develop systems and structures that allow students and employees to continue developing these while in the workplace. Industry leaders also need to understand how to engage better with schools and districts. This may mean taking the time to learn more about the education system in order to develop mutual partnerships which are truly beneficial to both organizations and the development of students’ career readiness.

While general engagement by schools with employers can usually provide some of these benefits, to provide the greatest chance of achieving these outcomes schools and industry should consider developing meaningful, sustained partnerships. As any school leader who has set out to develop strong partnerships with industry knows, meaningful employer engagement does not come automatically or easily. The interests of employers and schools have to be carefully balanced. Their respective constraints and cultures need to be considered. Tough choices must be made about how best to invest limited time and resources into joint efforts. And perhaps most important, industry partnerships need to be guided by a school’s goals and its vision of what career-ready students need to know and be able to do.

This paper is written to support high school leaders in understanding, designing, and sustaining effective school and industry partnerships in support of career readiness.

The Promise of Partnerships attempts to synthesize some of the best thinking on industry partnerships to improve career readiness. It is intended to guide school leaders in both reflecting on their current practices and developing new ones to ensure more deliberate and effective partnerships. It links to additional resources from research studies to school websites; highlights school and district efforts; and offers recommendations for schools and districts eager to improve their employer engagement efforts. We hope it becomes a valuable resource for school leaders and their partners.


The paper is organized in the following manner:

  • Part 2 outlines the rationale for and importance of employer engagement to improve career readiness for high school graduates.

  • Part 3 describes the benefits and challenges of organizing school and industry engagement into sustained, meaningful partnerships.

  • Part 4 explores the variety and types of industry partnerships possible and appropriate to particular school, community, and employer goals.

  • Part 5 provides advice to school leaders on how to build, strengthen and sustain partnerships—from wherever a school is starting in its career readiness preparation goals and its relationships with regional employers.

  • Part 6 offers tools and resources for continuing the work.

The Promise of Partnerships is part of a series of multi-media white papers on promising education practices for preparing students for the changing world of work from the America Achieves Educator Networks. For the other papers in this series, including papers on developing 21st century skills and competencies and on project-based learning in support of career readiness, go to

The America Achieves Educator Networks supports the efforts of innovative educators and schools to help more students gain access to and complete a quality education pathway leading to economic stability and success. In December 2017, the Global Learning Network (GLN), an Educator Networks initiative that convenes leaders from high-performing high schools, hosted a gathering of educators and experts from economics, industry, and workforce development to discuss how schools and districts can help more young people master the skills and competencies necessary for career and lifelong success. Many of these discussions turned to the importance of engaging employers and building workable industry partnerships to support student exposure to, experience of, and ability to navigate the world of work. In the months following the convening, the America Achieves Educator Networks explored effective industry partnerships, including through visits to innovative schools around the U.S., workplace tours and employer interviews across industry sectors, interactions with thought leaders, and review of data and research.


[i]Axios. Shock report: Machines will do half our labor in less than 8 years. 2018

[ii]Council on Foreign Relations. The Work Ahead: Machines, Skills and U.S. Leadership in the Twenty-First Century. Independent Task Force Report No. 76. New York: CFR.; Bakshi, Downing, Osborne, ands Schneider. The Future of Skills:  Employment 2030. 2018

[iii]Dell Technologies. The Next Era of Human-Machine Partnerships. 2017

[iv]World Economic Forum. Education can't keep up with our fast-moving world. 2017