This week I attended the first of a 3-part workshop series on “Leveraging the Power of LinkedIn,” sponsored by my local Small Business Development Center. As I reflected on the key concepts presented, it occurred to me that these ideas have direct relevance with how community colleges and workforce development organizations are designing, developing, and delivering Career Pathways programs.

Leverage the power of Career Pathways by linking in.

No, I don’t mean marketing Pathways through LinkedIn. Rather, consider the fundamental building blocks of that social media tool as they apply to your own Career Pathways program.  What does your organization’s “Pathways profile” say about you?

Do you have enough Connections?

According to various studies, there seems to be a “magic tipping point” of 500 Connections (i.e., individuals to whom you are linked) to optimize your LinkedIn profile and achieve the most networking benefits. In the same way, there are tipping points within your organization and in your community to indicate how your Pathways programs are impacting the workforce. Building connections within LinkedIn is simple; you just click on pictures and invitations are automatically sent. Pathways Connections take more time and effort, but the payoff is greater: long-term program sustainability, greater alignment to jobs, and increased student success. These Connections can include the number of:

  • CTE (career-technical education) programs that contain Pathways certificates
  • CTE faculty who actively promote and advise students along career paths, rather than just on the course requirements in a program
  • Local employers who are engaged in building and supporting Pathways programs (e.g., through internships, job shadowing, resource-sharing, promoting certificates and training with employees)
  • Adult Basic Skills and ESOL students who successfully transition through Pathways training into a college-level CTE degree program
  • High school students who complete dual credit coursework, earn college-level Pathways certificates and enroll in college CTE programs upon graduation
  • Individuals who seek out and successfully complete Pathways certificates within a degree program
  • Students who complete a certificate, find related work, and return for additional certificates and degrees over a period of time.

What are your Key Words?

LinkedIn, like most social media, is all about Key Words. It is how we query search engines for information and it is how programmers build the algorithms to organize and produce the results. Key Words in LinkedIn capture what you do – what words people would use to search out your skills and services. They are focused and easily understood. Career Pathways programs should be marketing themselves in the same way. How do you tell the community what you do?

In my work as a researcher, I frequently need to search college websites for information about their programs, and it always surprises me how often Pathways programs are set up as separate entities with little or no alignment to the college’s CTE offerings. There are frequently no indications on the department web pages that tell me Pathways options exist (e.g., Adult Basic Skills transition programs, ESOL training, non-credit skills training, industry certifications preparation/testing, certificates that build towards a degree). How can students, workforce partners, and employers find you? Marketing flyers and promotional videos are great tools to share once they know your programs exist, but the reality is that most will start by searching your college website.

Tell your story.

My LinkedIn workshop presenter described the Summary section of the Profile as a place where I can tell my story – not just to describe what I do, but to connect with my audience so they see how a connection with me will benefit them. To do that, I need to ask some key questions:

  • Who is my audience?
  • What is important to them?
  • What do they care about?
  • How do they benefit from working with me?
  • What skills or services do I most want to be found for?

Sound like good questions for Pathways faculty and staff to ask? Agreed. Too often, Career Pathways program staff and leadership either try to provide everything to everyone, or they so narrowly focus their services so most people don’t see how they might benefit. A place to start, both for the LinkedIn Summary and for Pathways programs, is to see what others are saying about you. What words do they choose to describe your program and its components? In my LinkedIn Summary, I note that my clients tell me they value the way I can balance both the big-picture vision and the day-to-day details to successfully manage their projects. What do your students, local employers, faculty, and workforce development partners say about your Pathways programs?

Improve your profile.

Every time I log into my LinkedIn overview, I am urged to “improve my profile.” I can see how many Connections I have, who viewed my profile in the last few weeks, and opportunities to share an update, upload a photo or publish a post.  While I am still reserving judgment on how much this app will improve my company’s bottom line, I do see the value of building community and networking. The education and workforce communities have their own ways of networking, and while Career Pathways as national and statewide initiatives have gained considerable respect and prominence in both arenas, there is still much more work to do.  And it really does begin with you – find the tipping points, make the connections across systems, and tell your story. I know I’d like to hear it. Send me a note or post a comment and let me know about your program.