How to Grow Strong Partnerships for Your Program’s Success
Ideas contributed by Renee Martin, Director of Catalyst Kitchens.
Invest in your community and watch your program thrive; neglect your community’s needs and watch your program struggle. This is as straightforward as it gets: we believe that community engagement can be the determining factor between success and failure. Community engagement is one of the Catalyst Kitchens core values and is a crucial component in operating job training and social enterprise.
Each community is unique and one size does not fit all. From student referral partners to employer partners, your program must be designed around what your partners need and consider how partnerships can serve your students. We will discuss how to create strong, sustainable relationships with some of the most important partners: your local foodservice industry, social services, student referral partners, and employer partners.
Engage the Local Foodservice Industry
First things first: what kind of business are consumers looking for? In our consulting work, we always establish the business model at the beginning of a contract to define the training environment and student potential. If you’re looking to open a coffee shop, survey the surrounding area: who are your competitors? Are there 5 other coffee shops in your immediate area, or would your shop be filling a community need? Identify the key stakeholders who can advise you on which food business(es) make the most sense in your community. Form an advisory council of industry experts that will inform your decision making.
Conduct a competitive market analysis based on your findings from industry experts. Determine if your business will add unique value to the area and if it’s a viable business plan. Be careful to keep an open mind during this process: having your heart set on a single business idea can lead to constantly managing to avoid disappointment instead of tapping into opportunity.
Communicate with Social Services Providers
Consider this: an individual’s barriers to employment are also barriers to training. Many students will require wraparound services during your program to be successful. Services such as stable housing, transportation support, childcare, or general hygiene needs can make the difference between a student completing the program to find employment or a student dropping out to seek out better accommodations. Catalyst Kitchens programs tend to be rigorous in schedule and training to adequately prepare students for the culinary workplace, therefore it is important that all basic needs are met for students to focus their full attention on their learning and growth.
Assess which of these services your program can realistically provide, and recognize that local social service providers can fill many gaps. Build strong partnerships with the providers in your area to create pipelines for future students through referrals and establish a reputation for your program within the community to open new doors for collaboration. With greater access to services for students, your program will be poised for growth and longevity. Engage your community at the earliest stage of business and program development to ensure their buy-in and support.
Make Decisions with Your Student Referral Partners
In the beginning of a program’s establishment, work with social service referral partners to determine what target population in your community would benefit from a job training program. Confirm that they can be successful by landing (and keeping) jobs in your community. Connect with referral partners regularly to ensure that your program is meeting the needs of the community. Change is constant, so your student population may change based on larger governmental decisions such as refugee resettlement policy changes, the ebb and flow of other social services available in the local area, or current employment opportunities. Keep a finger on the pulse of the community constantly so you’re targeting the students in the most need who can succeed within your training program.
Build Your Program's Reputation with Employer Partners
It’s also important to consider how your community partners will support students after they leave the program. Determine what businesses, restaurants, corporate dining programs, or catering companies will hire your students upon graduation and what skills they seek in new employees. Work with local hiring managers to determine which jobs and skills are in demand and partner with them to hire or provide internships for your graduates.
Building your program’s reputation among employer partners will expand job opportunities for students. Maintain strong communications with these employer partners to manage their expectations and potentially provide support as students transition into a new job environment. If your program prepares students for a prep cook position, clearly communicate their skills to employer partners so they don’t expect students to fill a role higher than their skill level. Clear communication lines and expectation management are key for fostering positive employer partner relationships.
Community Engagement Over Time
With a strong and varied combination of community partnerships in place, you can guarantee that your program is serving those in most need who will benefit from your job training services. Remember to remain flexible within these partnerships as needs and priorities change. Check in regularly and remember that no community is stagnant- your program will need to stay iterative and adapt to trends and markets. Your organization may decide to shift your student population focus or adjust your job training program to suit employer partner needs. Listen to your community and together you will find the right solution.
- Photo sourced from Model Member St. Matthew's House