When companies have difficulty identifying good community partners or do not know where to begin making connections, they often turn to intermediaries for help. Intermediaries can connect businesses with training and other services that will enable them to find and keep skilled workers. Intermediaries also can help companies find compatible community partners for corporate philanthropic initiatives.
The following are examples of four intermediaries—employer organizations, chambers of commerce, literacy coalitions, and national literacy organizations—that employers can turn to for help with expanding their employee pipeline or strengthening adult literacy in their community.
Because employer or professional membership organizations understand what their members need and what they have to offer to potential partners, they are well positioned to develop relationships with community programs and services. In some cases, they broker partnerships with adult literacy programs to provide training needed by their member businesses. In others, they work with their members and literacy coalitions and programs to improve literacy in their communities.
The Palm Beach Bar Association in Palm Beach County, Fla., for example, has established a committee dedicated to connecting more than 2,000 attorneys in the county with volunteer and other literacy activities. Lawyers for Literacy (LFL) is one of this Bar Association’s most popular committees. Committee members recruit colleagues at their firms to volunteer for the Literacy Coalition of Palm Beach County (the Coalition). These volunteers participate in the Coalition’s communitywide spelling bee and buy tables at the annual Love of Literacy fund-raising luncheon. They also participate in book discussions for Read Together Palm Beach County, during which the entire community is encouraged to read the same book at the same time, and visit adult education classrooms on International Reading Day, where they spend considerable time talking and answering questions about their legal careers. They discuss how literacy is essential to their jobs and encourage learners to continue their education and training.
Chambers of Commerce
Businesses turn to their local chambers of commerce for help finding and keeping qualified workers. Chambers broker training services, identify funding sources, match employer training needs to available services, coordinate training for groups of employers, and help the public workforce system, community colleges, and other providers understand business needs.
The Houston County Certified Literate Community Program (CLCP) in Houston County, Ga. illustrates the critical role the local chamber of commerce can play in strengthening relations between literacy organizations and business. In fact, it was with the support of Warner Robins Area Chamber of Commerce (the Chamber) that Bob Wilbanks, a member of the Chamber, first got involved with CLCP. As the Workforce Development Committee chair for the Chamber, Wilbanks reached out to the CLCP coordinator to discuss issues facing the Spanish-speaking workforce and was subsequently asked to join the CLCP board. Wilbanks now serves as the CLCP Chamber Liaison. In this capacity, he assists businesses with their worker training and education needs; he works with key community members to increase the stature and business competitiveness of Warner Robins area; and he helps establish adult education services and resources where they are needed.
Literacy coalitions coordinate literacy services in a city, county, region, or state, and in some cases provide adult basic education and English literacy instruction for employees at the workplace. They also offer other services to support literacy, such as increasing public awareness and understanding of adult literacy issues and referring adults to literacy programs. National literacy coalitions and adult education organizations also serve as intermediaries connecting businesses and adult education providers. For businesses needing employee training or wanting to support a good cause, these coalitions provide a single point of contact for a host of services and connections.
The Literacy Coalition of Palm Beach County in Palm Beach, Fla. coordinates all literacy services for adults and children in the county and provides on-site adult basic education and English literacy instruction for employers. Programs include an in-house training program for Palm Beach Resource Recovery Corporation, a waste energy plant in Palm Beach County. After providing in-house training for three years, the company contracted with the Literacy Coalition of Palm Beach County (the Coalition) in 2003 to provide a local English literacy instructor. The Coalition also provides the company with workplace needs assessments, materials, and testing services for a minimal fee. In return, the Resource Recovery Corporation recruits employees for the class and provides classroom space at its facility. Its human resources (HR) manager also provides support to the instructor and students as necessary. The partnership has been a huge help to Palm Beach Resource Recovery Corporation. According to its HR manager, Carol Weyhe, “The great thing about working with the Coalition is that now I can take my hands off and I don’t have to be as personally involved, but I know that they will do a good job.”
National Literacy Organizations
A business interested in making a larger impact on the field can turn to national literacy organizations for their expertise, relationships with local programs, and partnerships with other funders. The National Center for Family Literacy (NCFL), for example, often contributes its expertise to business initiatives. A nationally recognized adult and family literacy nonprofit organization, NCFL helps Half Price Books (HPB) identify literacy coalitions and providers in communities where HPB has stores or plans to open new ones. Similarly, for IBM, NCFL identifies family literacy programs to pilot IBM’s voice recognition software, Reading Companion.
NCFL also collaborates with Dollar General, a business that has worked over the years to help the adult education field move forward, on a number of initiatives. NCFL initially approached Dollar General, and the two organizations discussed the state of family literacy in the U.S. and how NCFL could improve it with philanthropic support from Dollar General. Together, they identified the following initiatives that Dollar General now sponsors, either individually or in concert with other funders:
Businesses that work with intermediaries to connect with adult education have learned the following:
Find an intermediary that can provide a single point of contact for your company’s workforce development or philanthropic efforts.
The Literacy Coalition of Palm Beach County (the Coalition) brings together every literacy provider in the community, making it easy for groups like Lawyers for Literacy (LFL) to become involved. One advantage of this partnership, according to LFL committee member Philip DiComo, an attorney with Haile, Shaw, & Pfaffenberger, is that the Coalition does the hard work of identifying literacy needs in the community, connecting volunteers to the projects most in need, and determining how best to distribute resources and funds to the various programs. By doing so, the Coalition provides a single point of contact for an extensive network of literacy and education organizations—and for businesses that want to get involved.
Leverage an intermediary’s resources, not just their connections to local programs.
Both individual attorneys and the Lawyers for Literacy (LFL) committee benefit from their partnership with the Palm Beach Bar Association. Attorneys have an opportunity to connect with their peers and serve on one of the association's committees. And the committee benefits by piggybacking on the bar association's existing resources for communications, recruitment, and dissemination. For example, the bar association sends out an annual invitation for committee membership to all of its attorney members, which is how many join LFL. The association also regularly highlights LFL in its newsletters and e-mail updates.
As the Chamber Workforce Development Committee Chairman, Bob Wilbanks contacted the Houston County Certified Literate Community Program (CLCP) coordinator and asked him to join forces to reach out to the Hispanic population in the Warner Robins area of the county. They formed a working group and began to focus on English-language learners’ needs and the importance of English-language skills in the workplace. As a result of this collaboration, CLCP recruited Wilbanks to its board and soon appointed him Chamber liaison.
Align business and partner goals.
Half Price Books (HPB) and the National Center for Family Literacy (NCFL) began a partnership in 2006. HPB was particularly interested in partnering with NCFL because of the match between the company’s philanthropic goals and NCFL’s goals, NCFL’s history of collaborating with businesses and access to local family literacy program, and its location in Louisville, Ky., where HPB opened its first store in 2006. And NCFL wanted to tap HPB's support for literacy.
Expand program capacity by combining your know-how with that of your partners.
The National Center for Family Literacy's (NCFL) contributions to IBM's Reading Companion include recommending family literacy programs that could benefit from using the software and reviewing the program's e-books for children. NCFL makes sure the books are relevant, fun, and age appropriate. NCFL’s model program sites also participated in an early launch of Reading Companion.
Recognize your limitations and seek other organizations that can help.
When the response to Dollar General’s literacy referral program became too big for it to handle, it turned to ProLiteracy America (ProLiteracy) for help. ProLiteracy maintains a database of its affiliate programs and connects these programs with adults who mail in referral cards obtained on-site at Dollar General. ProLiteracy also follows up with programs three months after the referral to see if potential students enrolled and, if so, ProLiteracy follows up again a year later. This information is used to refine the referral network in each state. Recently, Dollar General asked ProLiteracy to expand the program database to include nonaffiliate programs. Dollar General is concerned that some potential students may not live near a ProLiteracy affiliate and hopes that the inclusion of more programs will connect adults to a larger network of services that can help them and their children improve their literacy skills.
Evaluate and improve your philanthropic efforts.
Dollar General and its partner ProLiteracy realized that referring students to programs was not effective if those programs were already at capacity, leaving students frustrated and without services. So, when Dollar General and ProLiteracy began discussing other ways to collaborate, ProLiteracy suggested two research projects that would provide a better understanding of how the referral process was working. With support from Dollar General, the first project examined how local programs could improve their own referral practices and the second identified strategies for reducing program waiting lists and managing enrollment.
Benefits to Business
Some benefits to businesses in working with intermediaries to connect with adult education organizations include:
Benefits to Adult Education
Some benefits to adult education in working with intermediaries to connect with businesses include:
The following resources have been compiled for further reading on topics related to business-adult education partnerships. Pop-up windows with links to and descriptions of the resources will appear as you click on the resource titles. Resources are categorized below as: Business Partnerships (descriptions of the business-adult education partnerships referenced above); Partnership Profiles (related examples of other community partnerships); How-Tos (guides and tools for establishing partnerships); Research; the Case for Business Involvement; and Web Sites. A complete list of resources related to business-adult education partnerships is found in the Workforce Issues section on the C-PAL Web site.
Dollar General: Uniting Personal and Company Mission for Literacy
Half Price Books: Matching Corporate Mission with a Good Cause
IBM: Promoting Literacy and Getting Valuable Advice
Lawyers for Literacy: Connecting Through a Professional Association
Houston County Certified Community Literacy Program
Literacy Coalition of Palm Beach County
Filling America's Jobs: How You Can Benefit from the Public Workforce Development System: A Guide for Employers
Improving Workplace Opportunities for Limited English Speaking Workers, An Overview of Practice in the Manufacturing Sector
Center for Workforce Success