Magazine article Techniques

Backyard Advocacy: How Local Business Partners Can Help

Magazine article Techniques

Backyard Advocacy: How Local Business Partners Can Help

Article excerpt

When people think about business--education partnerships, advocacy is not as top-of-mind as more common models like mentoring or work-based learning. But did you know that if it weren't For business advocates, the public education system might not have started when it did?

Horace Mann is widely credited as the founder of the Common School Movement, launching the public school system in Massachusetts. But to gel the idea approved by the legislature, he approached wealthy business people and asked them to lobby on his behalf, telling them that they'd make more money if their workers were better trained. He stated:

"My object is to show that education has a market value: that it is so Jar an article of merchandise, that it may be turned to a pecuniary account: it may be minted, and will yield a larger amount of statutable coin than common bullion. It has a pecuniary value, a price current. Intellectual and moral education are powers not only insuring superior respectability and happiness, but yielding returns of silver and gold. This is my idea.''

Since then, business leaders have played an influential role as advocates for public education, securing political and public backing, as well as resources, to support the work being done by educators and students. This is particularly true in career and technical education (CTE); where business groups see a clear link between their advocacy efforts and the benefits they receive in the form of a better-qualified workforce.

For those interested in activating their own unstoppable army of business advocates, you need to consider three essential factors:

* What outcomes you and your partners want to achieve.

* What audience(s) you want to persuade.

* How you can narrowly focus your message.

Identifying Outcomes of Mutual Interest

Successful business education partnerships rely on trust and shared interests, and advocacy is no exception. Advocacy is not something you can just assign: If you want someone to follow orders and spread your message as you see fit, it might be better to look for a PR agency. Your partners will only speak on your behalf if they feel that they're "on the team" that you're working together toward the same ends. And these partners are most effective when talking about the things that matter to them and to their businesses.

For these reasons, advocacy is considered to be a "second-stage" partnership. You won't often find business partners willing to advocate for you right off the bat. Instead, you should build the relationship through advisory board work and by connecting on work experience for students. Once they see for themselves that your work has a direct impact on their business and that helping you will result in helping them, they'll be ready to speak on your behalf.

But remember that business advocates are only effective when they have a direct stake in what's being proposed. They can speak passionately about the importance of introducing students to CTE or advocating for funds that directly enhance your work, and they'll be more inclined to invest their political capital to make those things happen. Issues that don't relate to their businesses or that have fuzzy outcomes (such as a general PR campaign for local schools), will see much less enthusiasm and support.

In Door County, Wisconsin, business leaders felt an acute need for qualified entry-level employees, but saw that students were leaving the area due in part to a lack of awareness of the good jobs available locally. As a result, through a local business coalition (the Door County Economic Development Corporation), they invested in a campaign to make all local students (not just CTE students) aware of these opportunities. The business leaders lobbied the superintendent to email the entire high school student body a series of videos in which their employees (many of them former students) talked enthusiastically about what they did and why they enjoyed it. …

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