For Youth-Serving Organizations

Career exploration opportunities help young people envision themselves in the adult world. They also help them see the skills they will need for success and set goals for themselves, engaging them with school at a critical time.

By forming strategic partnerships with businesses and schools, you can connect the young people you serve with additional human and financial resources — including mentors, tutors and technology. You will also introduce students to new career and educational pathways and give them opportunities to practice professional skills.

What’s in it for you?
Business and school professionals have content knowledge, skills, and expertise that may support your mission. Through career exploration partnerships, you can gain new fiscal resources and access to equipment that help your organization achieve its mission.  Most of all, you can better serve the young people in your neighborhood or community, especially those at risk of becoming dropouts.

How to Get in the Game

First, find a school, business or other organization that can serve as your partner in a career exploration project. As you begin this process:

  • Find out if your organization already has a partnership on which you can build.
  • Think about who’s on your board of directors and whether you can strengthen an existing relationship.
  • Identify how a partnership might give young people a chance to explore new careers, connect their academic endeavors to professional achievement, or learn from business experts.
  • Ask the youth served about their interests

Once you know what you’re looking for, identify the local businesses or schools that might match your goals. You can begin to assess a potential partner’s “fit” by considering a few basic questions. What is the mission of the business or middle school you’re considering? What causes does it support? Does it already sponsor community-related programs? Does it have particular resources or expertise that will benefit the project?

Contacting Businesses

Start by contacting the human resources department (or, if the business is big enough, the community relations office). You can usually find the contact information on the organization’s website.  Email is typically more efficient, but if you prefer the phone, call between 8 am and 5 pm to increase your likelihood of reaching a real person.

Contacting Schools
Call the main line and ask to speak to the person responsible for school-business partnerships. Lead teachers or parent volunteers often help coordinate community activities. If no one is assigned that role, ask for the principal. Keep in mind that educators are very hard to reach once the bell rings. Call before classes begin, during lunch, or at the end of the school day. Be prepared to leave a voicemail.

What to Say:
Introduce yourself and your organization. Explain that you’re interested in exploring a partnership to provide young people with opportunities to explore careers. Explain why you have this interest and the benefits you expect all parties involved to gain. Address how a partnership would fit with the other party’s current partnerships and needs.

Keep in mind that businesses are often held accountable for the company’s bottom line or may have goals for public visibility or community relations. Likewise, schools are often focused on students’ academic achievement. Tailoring your message to your potential partner, be sure to describe how a career exploration activity will benefit the business or school you are contacting.

Ask if your contact would be open to scheduling an appointment to discuss how you might work together. If you choose to write a letter of inquiry instead, click here for sample text.

Career exploration can involve a wide variety of activities. Since every school, community and partnership are different, there is no particular activity that is right for every situation.

In consultation with your partner(s), discuss and establish some mutual goals, expectations and desired outcomes for your project. Then, choose an activity that reflects these goals and that addresses your needs and the strengths of your partnership.

Here are some examples of career exploration activities:

Career Fairs
During career fairs, community members set up exhibit booths and talk to young people about their jobs. A career fair will likely require you to coordinate with your partner to:

  • Secure adequate and appropriate space
  • Collaborate with colleagues to host a larger event and expose your students to even more business and nonprofit partners
  • Have young people research the business beforehand—consider creative, interactive ways to incorporate the information into instructional time
  • Use a mock passport to encourage interaction—as students meet with representatives, they receive a stamp or signature in their passport

Job Shadow Days
In this activity, young people follow an employee during a day in the workplace. Job shadowing helps young people understand what a job looks like day-to-day and how to apply to that job the skills they’re learning in school and your organization. To make the most of the day:

  • Help students compose a set of questions to ask the employee they shadow. For example: What do you like best (and least) about your job? Did you have to go to college? Graduate school? What was your first job? What subjects (such as math or science) do you use on a regular basis?
  • Match youth to employees in groups of up to three.
  • Before students split up to shadow, provide an orientation to the organization.
  • Convene again at the end of the day to reflect on the experience and discuss how English, math, social studies, and/or science are used every day.

Company Tours
Bringing students to a partner’s place of business, letting them tour the facility, and introducing them to employees is an effective way to expose them to new careers and industries. To organize a tour:

  • Recruit parent/family volunteers to chaperone according to organizational policy.
  • Prepare young people for what they might see and for the behavior that will be expected of them.

Career Days/Classroom Visits
Invite partners to your site and ask them to describe their jobs and/or share their expertise. Before the visit:

  • Work with your partner to develop an agenda and clarify the goals.
  • Tell your students about the visitor and have them research his or her organization and/or industry.
  • Discuss the relevance of the visit to the group’s goals.

Remember, the activity you choose doesn’t have to involve any of the categories above. It can be absolutely unique! Unleash your creativity to develop a program that will be interesting to young people and broaden their experience while supporting the goals of your organization and your partners.

Here are a couple of examples of all-star career exploration activities that might inspire your own thinking. Remember, however, that your own project doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive to be valuable.

  • A Seat at the Table
    State Farm uses a youth advisory board to fund community-improvement initiatives. Youth-serving organizations with missions such as the environment, access to education and social equality can partner with businesses and schools to create a youth advisory board.
  • Summer of Service
    Cities such as New York and Washington, D.C., partner with youth-serving organizations to organize volunteer projects when students are out of school. These activities empower youth by helping them further engage in their communities. 

Communication is the key to any successful partnership. Before you start an activity:

  • Present a clear statement of your organization’s mission. Your partners, whether a business or a school, will better be able to help develop appropriate activities and goals if they clearly understand your mission.
  • Talk with your partners about what everyone’s roles and responsibilities will be.
  • Draw up a budget, work plan, and timeline. (For examples, visit The Conference Board and Corporate Voices for Working Families

Establish a steering or planning committee (with members from both your organization and your partner organization) to monitor and evaluate the activity.

No matter what activity you choose, prepare by:

  • Securing adequate and appropriate space for the activity
  • Drafting a schedule or agenda at least two weeks in advance
  • Establishing a meeting point and directions, including where to park, which entrance to use, and how to follow any security procedures
  • Addressing any policies regarding food or giveaways
  • Having students research the organization and/or come up with questions for employees
  • Discussing a professional dress code with students—even if the partner does not insist, consider asking your students to wear business attire to give them a sense of what may be expected of them in professional settings
  • Considering inviting media to the event

Recognizing partners and participants will help sustain your relationships and set you up for ongoing, mutually beneficial collaboration. After all events or activities, have your students send thank you notes to partners. You might also:

  • Make marketing materials with the logos of all partners and a description of your activities to give to the community and show future partners.
  • Send a letter from the executive director thanking the partner organization and describing the impact of the activity.
  • Host an end-of-year celebration with partners.
  • Distribute certificates and/or photographs of the event.
  • Display posters or banners promoting the activity.
  • Recognize partners on your organization’s website or in your newsletter

  • Conduct a post-activity discussion with students to evaluate what they learned about career pathways. What new jobs did they hear about? In what companies or industries? What did they enjoy most about the activity? What, if anything, should be done differently next time?
  • Create an executive summary or brief PowerPoint presentation about the impact your activity had on the students and the partner organizations.
  • Show executives, school officials, community members, and the media your results (you may have to schedule more than one presentation).
  • Conduct a brown bag lunch among participants (including you and your employees, students, parents/families, and school representatives) to discuss the partnership’s strengths, weaknesses, and next steps. 

  • Work with your partner to identify where the goals of youth-serving organizations, communities, schools, and businesses intersect.
  • Partners may be surprised by the time and steps involved to collaborate. A shared work plan and timeline will help establish expectations. 
  • Look for a “champion” within your organization — someone respected by colleagues — who can share the vision with others and build internal support for the project.
  • Schedule regular times during activity planning to talk about progress and challenges.
  • Keep in touch and plan the next activity even after you say thank you.