A business–education partnership is ongoing involvement between schools and business-industry, unions, governments and community organizations. These partnerships are established by mutual agreement between two or more parties to establish certain goals, and to construct a plan of action for achievement of those goals.
Business-education partnerships may involve entire school boards and hundreds of students. Others pair private partners with a single class or even individual students. Business-education partnerships serve business and industry by providing reciprocal activities such as in-service training to employees, use of facilities, student directed projects, software development or marketing research. They also serve to strengthen instruction in academic skills and to enrich the educational process through the talent, idea power, and unique human resources that can be provided by the personnel of participating businesses.
Most business–education partnerships are co-operative relationships in which partners share values and objectives, human, material or financial resources, and roles and responsibilities in order to achieve desired learning outcomes.
The involvement of business in education is not new. For the first half of this century that interest was pervasive. Almost all school board members were business or professional people, and public school management was modeled on business management.
Business leaders and educators readily agreed that an important objective of education was the preparation of students for a productive work life. Curricula, testing, placement and counselling programs all developed within this comfortable consensus. The prodigious expansion of the public schools after World War II turned out to be the last page of this chapter in the history of business involvement in education.
Thus, in the critical years from the mid-1960s to the late 1970s, business leaders were increasingly distant from the schools. Their interest shifted toward the universities. During this time business leaders felt they could afford to be passively critical of education because of the plentiful supply of qualified entry-level workers among the very large numbers of people born during the postwar baby boom and among women re-entering the labour market.
It wasn't until the 1980s that business leaders began gradually re-establishing connections with public education. The problems of high illiteracy; accelerating student drop-out rates; antiquated curriculum and teaching methods; the transition from an industrialized society to an information society, and the increased concern for the natural environment, prompted the attention of business leaders and educators across the nation to come together to find workable solutions. With new issues came new actors: organized parent and community groups; organized teachers; advocates of previously neglected groups of students; lawyers and judges; and federal and provincial governments.
Changes in the labour supply were the most significant spur to this renewed interest in education. These and other changes led business leaders to a whole new set of realizations:
- There will be fewer young people entering the labour market - 20% few high school graduates in 1990 than in 1980.
- The proportion of women in the labour market will not rise as swiftly in the future as it has in the recent past.
- The skills needed in the workforce are growing increasingly complex and changing rapidly. Individual workers will need to learn new skills continually as their jobs change under the impact of technology and as they change jobs.
- Increased worker productivity will be a necessary ingredient for successful competition in the global economy.
- The schools can do the bulk of the job of educating young people. Employment training programs for youth company training programs for employees can complement - but not substitute for - an effective education system.
Business leaders began slowly to strengthen ties with schools and the education community began just as slowly to respond. Over the past two decades the number of businesses involved in partnerships with education has risen dramatically. According to the USA National Center for Education Statistics, 42,200 business-education partnerships existed in 1983-84. By 1991 there were over 200,000 business-education partnerships in the United States, Solomon, C.M. (1991) and Grobe, Curnan and Melchior (1993) found that approximately 9,000,000 students were involved.
The most common type of early partnerships was the adopt-a-school where a business adopts a single school to provide resources and engage in various activities. These one-to-one partnerships between businesses and schools were often a first step in establishing deeper relationships with schools, Lankard, B.A. (1995). Since the mid-1980s, business-education partnerships have strengthened and focused on more complex, system-level concerns: enhancing student learning, teacher training and development, increased innovation in schools system and more effective assessment tools.
Types of Business-Education Partnerships
Frank and Smith (1997), have suggested four classifications for business-education partnerships based on the process the partnership employs. Although these are not exclusive, they found that most business-education partnerships could be categorized into one of the four classifications.
- Consultative partnerships are setup for the purpose of receiving public input around change or to gather ideas for future policies.
- Contributory partnerships are formed to benefit a specific organization or the community more generally.
- Operational partnerships are work-sharing arrangements in which the components of a given task are delegated to specific parties.
- Collaborative partnerships are set up to share resources, risks and decision-making.
Examples of business-education partnership activities
The following list is but a small sample of what a partnership activity might involve. There are hundreds of activities in which businesses and schools can engage.
- Workshops, conferences, tours, exchange programs, classroom visits, assemblies, workplace visits, science fairs, guest speakers; seminars; presentations;
- Work experience programs, internships, tutoring, skills training, career development activities;
- Mentoring, job–shadowing, apprenticeship, and on–the job training;
- Recruiting, training, school to career information, guidance;
- Curriculum support, teacher development, teacher placements;
- Grants, scholarships, equipment, money, fund-raising; starting an education foundation;
Objectives of a business-education partnership
The literature on business-education partnerships has found the following objectives to be a common thread in many of activities outlined above. For business and industry, partnerships with schools may improve the quality of the workplace and provide employees with unique learning experiences and a new understanding of the educational system. For students, partnerships may provide opportunities for career exploration and for educators, partnerships can bring new resources to enrich the curriculum and to ensure that their teaching is relevant to the skill sets required of the private sector industry.
- to facilitate learning for students, employees and educators
- to improve the education setting through upgrading facilities or equipment
- to foster student success - learning new skills and knowledge
- to integrate young people into the labour market by involving them in Cooperative Education experiences
- to connect schools with local businesses so both become more familiar with their role in community
- to assist with curriculum development, new learning opportunities and skill development
- to meet the labour market needs of business and industry
Building a business-education partnership
The process of building a business-education partnership can be multidimensional. It may involve:
- recognizing opportunities for change
- mobilizing people and resources to create changes
- developing a vision of long-term change
- seeking support and involvement from partners
- choosing an effective group of involved participants
- building trust among collaborators, and
- developing learning opportunities and benefits for all partners.
Lessons Learned: Assessing the Long-term Impact of Short-term Results
Donald M. Clark of The American Association for Career Education (AACE), concurs with the report to Congress on the implementation of the School-to-Work Opportunities Act of 1994 that "more must be done to involve employers." He states that studies of "business-education partnerships" since the White House announcement in 1983 urging this type of connection between the two sectors, have consistently pointed out that they have had little, if any, impact on producing fundamental change in the educational system. More specifically, they rarely encompass attempts to affect the curriculum, the overall educational process, or the acquisition of basic skills. Nor have they significantly affected the dropout rate of participating students (Clark, 1996).  The evidence of this growing disenchantment by business and industry was seen in the nationwide surveys of employers conducted by the National Center on the Education quality of the Workforce (EQW). The surveys revealed that most partnerships have diffuse and unquantifiable goals and most of the partnership activities are brief and episodic and involve low levels of investment; they seldom run long enough to make a long-term difference.
HRDC’s evaluation of programs for in-school youth, taken from its June 1997 final report on the Effectiveness of Employment-Related Programs for Youth: Lessons Learned from Past Experience sheds more light on the long-term impact of limited short-term results. This study found that the most effective programs for young people provide sustained adult contact. Results indicate that the most effective strategies for keeping young people in school are those that build bridges to the world of work while young people are still in school. The most effective strategies were found to combine a training component with strong links to the employer community, more formal training linked to on-the-job training and work experience, and job search assistance and transitional wage subsidies (HRDC June 1997) . There is some evidence that co-operative education programs lead to improved employment outcomes in post-secondary school although the number of work experience placements offered by employers is quite limited. There are a number of concerns regarding the presence of corporations in the school. There is a fear that the active involvement of business will encourage governments to retreat from their role as the primary funders of education (Torjman, 1998) . Other issues of corporate involvement in schools reveal disquieting implications of a corporate ideology and ethos entering the learning experience of our young people (Hill and McGowan, 1996) . Teachers are concerned that partnerships with corporations involved in military research and development send a clear message to students. The presence of military contractors in classrooms suggests that schools are not concerned with violence and oppression in the world (Hill and McGowan, 1996) . Some school boards have developed business-education guidelines which are intended to act as a code that partners can apply to regulate themselves throughout the duration of the partnership but according to the Conference Board of Canada, guidelines and codes of conduct differ significantly (Hill and McGowan, 1996) . A code of conduct serves as a screening process to ensure that only socially-responsible businesses are granted access to schools and the partnerships activities would be monitored by an external evaluation committee of parents, community members, teachers and business representatives.
Business-education partnership examples
- International Business-Education Partnerships
- New University Partnership To Align Business Education With Private Sector Needs In Egypt
- Dungannon & Cookstown Business-Education Partnership, Ireland
- BCLC Business Civic Leadership Center
- Business-Education Partnership Forum
- Vermont Chamber of Commerce Business-Education Partnership
- Business-Education Partnerships: Your Planning Process Guide, The Canadian Chamber of Commerce, 1992
- The National Center for Education Statistics : The National Center for Education Statistics (1989)
- Solomon, C.M. (1991). New partners in business. Personnel Journal, 70 940, 56-67
- Grobe, T., Curnan, S.P., & Melchior, A. (1993). Synthesis of existing knowledge and practice in the field of educational partnerships (Report No. PIP-93-1102). Washington, DC: Office of Vocational and Adult Education (ED). (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED362994)
- Lankard, B.A. (1995). Business/education partnerships (Report No. EDO-CE-95-156). Washington, DC: Office of Educational Research and Improvement (ED). (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED383856).
- Frank, Flo and Anne Smith. (1997). The Partnership Handbook. Prepared for the Department of Human Resources Development Canada. Ottawa: Minister of Public Works and Government Services Canada.
- The Conference Board of Canada : The Conference Board of Canada Website, 2003
- NCREL North Central Regional Educational Laboratory : Putting the pieces together: Comprehensive School-linked Strategies for Children and Families
- Clark, Donald M. (1996). Making a Difference in Industry-Education Cooperation
- HRDC, 1997. Effectiveness of Employment-Related Programs for Youth: Lessons Learned from Past Experience
- Torjman, Sherri. (1998). Partnerships: The Good, The Bad and The Uncertain
- Hill, Phillip and McGowan, Brian (1996). Corporate Involvement in Ontario’s Catholic Schools