Magazine article Techniques

Advisory Boards: Gateway to Business Engagement

Magazine article Techniques

Advisory Boards: Gateway to Business Engagement

Article excerpt

In every conference we've attended this year, we've seen sessions about how to build or manage an effective business advisory board. Interest has been growing quickly in these types of models for two reasons: First, because career and technical education (CTE) programs can only succeed by staying relevant to the needs of local businesses; and second, because advisory boards are one of the most effective vehicles for generating support of all kinds from the community.

Workshops on this subject often address an important set of issues, which we will cover in this article:

* Do we need to create a business advisory board for our program?

* How should we go about building and managing a board?

* If we already have a board, how do we focus and energize the board?

Do We Need to Create a Board?

On a recent site visit in Illinois that Hans Meeder conducted, he heard from the teacher/manager of a well-regarded CTE program. This particular engineering program uses a national curriculum; as part of the program certification visit three years beforehand, the program leader was reminded of the need (a requirement) to create a business advisory board. The program leader explained that when he created the advisory board, it unleashed a torrent of business interest and involvement. The business members became very excited about the program, and as they surveyed the real needs of local businesses, they realized the existing engineering program wasn't expansive enough.

They determined that an advanced manufacturing/precision machining program was also needed to complement the current engineering program. With the advisory board's guidance and advocacy, the school district agreed to create the ancillary CTE program and hire an additional teacher to support it, thus broadening the overall scope of the program. With business donations and district funding, several hundred thousand dollars worth of high-tech equipment was procured, and the program now boasts a state-of-the-art lab. The program leader explained that creating a business advisory board had nothing less than "a transformational effect" on his program.

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Why was the advisory board transformational? First, the program leader welcomed the real and substantive input of the advisory board. The board retained a legal "advisory" status, but their input was considered seriously. Second, the organization of the board provided a concrete tool for substantive business connection to the program. While "drive-by" involvement of business through field trips and guest speakers are valuable components of business involvement, nothing can replace the regular and consistent business input that an advisory board offers. Third, this consistent input allowed the program to more fully align to the real needs of the local economy thus the program became more relevant and robust. This increased enthusiasm among employers, teachers and, ultimately, the students.

How Should We Go About Building and Managing a Board?

Done right, an advisory board will be an important facet of your program, and it should be treated as such. It is an investment--not an expense. If you see the board as simply a compliance activity, meeting your obligations may be all you'll get out of it. But if you truly understand the benefits your board can provide to your program, you will give it the time and professionalism it deserves. 'This topic is an important one, so this spring we are writing a guidebook that fully covers it, and the book will be published by the Association for Career and Technical Education. Here are a few highlights from this new book:

1. Recruit the right people to your board; don't just fill it with willing, warm bodies. You need members who can help you fulfill the following goals:

* Connect you and your program with your community and region.

* Help you see your operation from an outside perspective. …

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