The following components enable an HRTP to function successfully as an industry partnership. They apply to partnerships at all stages of development—newly forming, sustaining or expanding their reach—and across all industries.
- Composition: Includes major stakeholders in the industry
- Commitment: Leaders—at all levels—are committed to the partnership itself
- Infrastructure: Has developed structured ways of working together
- Culture: Values building a collaborative problem-solving culture
- Capacity: Invests in ability to sustain the work
- Comprehensive: All components are in play to deliver results in multiple areas
Each of these critical components are outlined more fully below, with promising practices and examples provided in a companion brief.
COMPOSITION: Includes major stakeholders in the industry
Who are the partners? Ideally, an HRTP is comprised of the major stakeholders in an industry and has, at a minimum, three legs of the stool: those representing employers, those representing workers, and an intermediary or sustained convener. Together they share authority and decision-making over the direction of the programs needed to meet the industry’s needs. Together they create the strong scaffolding that allows supply and demand in the workforce world to come together in a systemic way.
In partnerships that may have more representation from some parts of the industry than others, HRTPs have found that an important way to solidify the high-road nature of the partnership is to get all three of the primary stakeholders to be as actively involved as possible. HRTPs that have strong participation from multiple employers convened by an intermediary without deep labor involvement have worked to increase worker voice, and vice versa for partnerships with strong union/worker involvement, which have worked to deepen employer participation.
Intermediaries play an important role. Industries typically do not naturally organize themselves, especially in a sustained way beyond particular issues or projects. Industry leaders may have shared interests and can work on those, but in general they have to be brought together—or be helped to hold together—by a dedicated convener or intermediary that can engage the parties, analyze industry needs, provide programmatic capacity, and support leadership development. Intermediaries can also connect the needs and interests within the partnership with the community workforce development system.
COMMITMENT: Leaders—at all levels—are committed to the partnership itself
Successful partnerships make sure key leaders within the industry are committed to the partnership—at all stages of development and at all levels of the partnership. This is especially important at the start-up phase, but it is also needed to sustain the partnership as key players and conditions inevitably change over time. When a partnership expands, either into new geographies, new types of work, or when more partners are added, it is also critical to secure commitments to the broadened partnership. Further, the partnership must look beyond the top leaders in the industry and obtain commitments from those who will be implementing the partnership and living it on a day to day basis, such as front-line workers and training participants themselves.
Finding common ground and reasons to work together on a sustained basis is not always easy, especially if the parties have been historically adversarial or inexperienced in working together. This can be true between labor and management, or between multiple employers who have had to compete with one another in the industry. HRTPs have developed numerous strategies to build these multi-party commitments. Notably, they often do not start by coming together to develop training programs, but rather to solve a challenge or take advantage of an opportunity. Then the education and training become solutions to meet that challenge or opportunity.
Partnerships require time and effort to succeed and need investments of energy and resources. It is essential to have more than buy-in on paper but rather firm commitments to lead the partnership work together. Ways that HRTPs have found to develop this commitment include having the partners:
- Jointly Understand External Industry Challenges/Opportunities
A powerful way to build and sustain support for the partnership is for the partners to develop a shared sense of the forces affecting their industry. These can be everything from legislative and policy changes, demographic trends such as an aging workforce, major market disruptions, or need to gain a competitive advantage, depending upon the scope and composition of the partnership.Working in partnership provides a way to get ahead of those changes and to do so collaboratively. Working jointly to meet the challenges or take advantage of the opportunities means energy doesn’t get wasted fighting each other, resisting the change that’s needed, or missing the chance to really drive the future together. Importantly, securing commitments to work together in a sustained and structured way allows the parties to be prepared for whatever may come next, as no one-time program or collaboration will be sufficient to address the constantly evolving future.
- Address Internal Operational Challenges/Workplace Environment
Many of the HRTPs in this initiative identified internal challenges—such as workplace safety, employee absenteeism, or the need to bring more culturally competent services and care to customers—as important reasons for their partners coming together to work on problems they had yet to solve on their own or through other means. Knowing they would jointly commit to address these issues provided the incentive that many of the partners needed to participate. Having data and candid conversations about what had worked or not worked in the past was often critical to the partners’ buy-in for the new approach.
- Utilize Champions Across the Industry
Every HRTP in this initiative has identified having strong worker and manager champions for the partnership as critical to securing support, at all stages of partnership development. It is key to breaking through at the start-up phase, especially when the partnership may present a fundamentally different type of relationship and defy a long history without collaboration.Having champions is just as important for sustaining and expanding the partnership. It allows those who were not involved in the effort from the beginning to hear from those they respect as to the value and benefit of working in what may be a very different way. The identification and utilization of champions should explicitly include worker and manager champions, at multiple levels, who are key to generating support at deeper levels of the partnership.
- Build Off of Tangible Results and Data
Another way HRTPs build leadership commitment is to generate concrete examples, data, and proof of improvements achieved through working in partnership. There is a robust body of work showing positive results in various industries. HRTPs in this initiative have been able to leverage their own partnership results to deepen or expand their work to more stakeholders.
- Continually Reinforce the Partnership to Sustain Buy-In
Successful HRTPs cannot stress enough the need to continually care and attend to the partnership itself. Once it is launched and operating, with programs running, it is can be easy to get busy with the work and forget that the work includes continually reinforcing the partnership itself. It is the backbone holding up the ability to do the work at all.An often overlooked but powerful way to reinforce the partnership itself is to consistently use the structures and processes that have been created by the partners. Doing so allows HRTPs to be prepared to on-board new leaders and provide already agreed upon role clarity for those leaders. It makes it efficient to communicate decisions and provides clear roadmaps for updating sponsors of the work who may not be actively involved in the work itself. As multi-party entities, communication and understanding across and within the partnership is key. Following the processes that have been put in place helps ensure the infrastructure is strong and the parties see how valuable it can be to meet goals they couldn’t meet as well on their own.
INFRASTRUCTURE: Has developed structured ways of working together
Because the partnership itself provides the foundation for working together, it is important to establish the processes the partnership will use to operate efficiently, to foster problem-solving, and to sustain itself through changes over time. While partnerships can fall along a continuum of informal to formal ways of structuring themselves, HRTPs have found that a few things are key to have no matter what structure they choose:
- Governance structures that fit the developmental stage of the partnership. This can take the form of developing a charter laying out clear roles and responsibilities, crafting a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), or establishing the partnership as a separate legal entity, such as a non-profit organization or (depending upon applicability of federal law) operating as a Taft-Hartley Trust.
- Clear decision-making processes that are agreed upon, and leaders trained together in how to use them. Commonly used ones are Interest Based Problem Solving (IBPS) and Consensus Decision Making (CDM) because they advance joint problem-solving.
- Leadership expectations that support collaborative working relationships among all stakeholders, and development and training for new leaders on the norms that will be sustained through inevitable changes in composition of leadership.
CULTURE: Values building a collaborative problem-solving culture
While it is critical to get leadership commitments to work together and set up structured ways to do so, what really allows a partnership to thrive is creating and sustaining a culture that enables the whole to be greater than the sum of its parts. The HRTPs that have flourished for, in some cases, more than a decade, have found that having a culture of working truly together is what allows them to get so much done and so well.
Such a culture includes establishing working relationships based on trust among the parties, clear and consistent communication, and accountability to the partnership—its values, goals, and particular work plans—while embracing innovation and continuous learning that is data driven. Creating and sustaining a culture like this takes persistent work, but it is critical to making the joint efforts successful. These qualitative aspects of culture-building may seem elusive, but HRTPs in this initiative have found a number of ways to achieve them through intentional focus on doing so.
CAPACITY: Invests in ability to sustain the work
What makes partnerships unique as the vehicle for high-road training efforts is the commitment to work in partnership for the long haul. HRTPs live beyond any program, project, or grant, and this requires attending to all the factors that can sustain the partnership itself. Beyond the need to continually reinforce buy-in as outlined above, HRTPs have found that, even though it can be challenging to make time to do so while also running programs, it is essential to attend to what it takes to institutionalize the partnership. This includes having a dedicated intermediary or staff, maximizing and diversifying funding, supporting champions in concrete ways, and investing in leadership development.
COMPREHENSIVE: All components are in play to deliver results in multiple areas
While this brief has tried to tease out the component parts of a successful partnership, they are intertwined and reinforce each other, just as all four of the essential elements of an HRTP do. Success requires partnership component parts to be attended to in a comprehensive way. Doing so then provides HRTPs the ability to make an impact in multiple areas. For example, the HRTPs in this initiative have demonstrated that through their partnerships they can meet their industry’s workforce needs and simultaneously drive improvements in equity, climate resiliency, and job quality.