decorative light bulbs

The BILT: Giving Employers a Stronger Voice in Shaping College Programs

two people talkingThe role of employers in conventional advisory committees is often to “rubber stamp” what programs are already doing or plan to do, rather than to help shape the direction and content of those programs. The Business and Industry Leadership Teams (BILT) model, developed by the National Convergence Technology Center at Collin College, takes a different approach that puts businesses in a co-leadership role for college technical programs. “The frequency, specificity, and depth of business input, coupled with an industry-led governance structure, sets the BILT model apart. BILTs embrace the notion that employer engagement is not an event, but a process built on trusted relationships between colleges and companies. BILTs leverage the sector knowledge of employers and teaching expertise of faculty to foster powerful collaborations that ensure program curriculum meets the needs of business and students are workforce ready.”1 Using a structured, repeatable voting process, BILT members—subject matter experts (SME) in their fields—prioritize the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSA) that program graduates should possess, ultimately producing candidates the businesses are much more likely to hire. BILTs update the KSAs for their programs every year.

The BILT model does not diminish the college faculty’s “ownership” of any program. Rather, it provides a structure for leveraging the expertise of individuals who are active in the field the program is intended to serve. BILTs are designed to keep a close eye on trends and on how colleges can prepare students to be ready for future developments. By positioning employers as co-leaders and agenda developers, the BILT model provides demonstrable industry leadership and drives a higher level of accountability. It allows for an increase in formal and informal communication with college personnel, thus facilitating timely revision of curriculum in response to industry need.

In both the phone and in-person interviews, respondents whose partnerships were guided by the BILT model, as opposed to using conventional advisory committees, expressed high levels of satisfaction. One reason for this is that the BILT model invites deeper and more frequent employer engagement and systematically implements input that is
received from employers.

1 Pathways to Innovation, a project of the National Science Foundation Advanced Technological Education (NSF ATE) program,


  • Employers that engage with colleges are most strongly motivated by the need for more skilled technicians and a desire to improve technician recruitment and retention while reducing turnover.
  • Employers see a positive correlation between their partnerships with their affiliated colleges and their ability to recruit and keep strong candidates.
  • Employers are more motivated to partner with colleges that have a strong history of employer engagement.
  • Employers welcome the opportunity to help shape college curricula pertaining to their industries.
  • Employers are more receptive to engagement when the partnership has the visible support of the college president.

  • Employers are more likely to maintain partnerships with colleges that understand their needs and keep pace with their industries.
  • Employers in the study see colleges as their first sources of talent and view positive relations with colleges as essential to their own success.
  • Colleges that have adopted a BILT approach offer opportunities for employers to serve in program co-leadership roles.

  • Engagement with colleges increases worker productivity and reduces costs associated with turnover, training and retraining, onboarding for new hires, and time-loss accidents.
  • Engagement with colleges helps produce the diversified, well educated, highly technical workforce needed in today’s workplaces.

  • Conventional means of engagement, such as tours and career fairs, are common. Somewhat less common are work-based learning experiences, such as apprenticeships and internships.
  • While their perspectives are valuable, employers are not frequently invited to serve as part-time faculty or help select new faculty hires.

  • Employers are generally satisfied with the college graduates they hire.
  • Employers are most satisfied with their new hires’ oral communication, critical thinking, and analytical reasoning skills. They are least satisfied with their new hires’ ability to lead teams and their proficiency in languages other than English.

Results of the BILT Approach

two people talking the workplaceWe found that employers and college personnel involved in partnerships based on the BILT model expressed more enthusiasm for their collaboration and enjoyed stronger results in areas such as curriculum development, student enrollment and satisfaction, and program marketing. Participation in such teams took more time and effort than conventional advisory committees, we were told, but the benefits (both short- and long-term) made the effort worthwhile. The BILT Academy, an initiative of the NSF ATE Pathways to Innovation project (, offers guidance on getting started with the model; selecting BILT members and leaders; prioritizing knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSA); and ongoing administration of programs that employ the BILT model.

Recommendations to Colleges

One of the takeaways from this study is that employers are more likely to maintain partnerships with colleges that understand their needs and keep pace with their industries. For this reason, colleges should be proactive in reaching out to employers and providing them opportunities to share information on their evolving skills, training, and short- and long-term hiring needs; their retirement projections; and their strategies for growing employee pipelines. That knowledge will, in turn, help colleges build industry-informed programs. Colleges will also benefit from the exchange of information on trends in technology, credentials, and regulations. Information can be gathered from employers in many ways—for example, by attending meetings of employer associations, chambers of commerce, and/or workforce and development organizations. Regardless of the strategies used, colleges should communicate often and make it easy for employers to be involved.

Employers should be invited into the classroom to speak with students about their specific hiring requirements (credentials earned, industry qualifying examinations passed, and so on), their internship and/or apprenticeship opportunities, or the general trends in their industries. Whatever the topic, giving employers a platform for connecting with students—their future employees—on a personal level benefits everyone involved. Students will be better informed and inspired to attain reachable goals, colleges will be better informed about the industry sector served by their program(s), and employers will gain a sense of connection. In short, colleges should make employers feel like an integral part of the program. Doing so means that in the future, when there are job openings, the employer will look to the college to fill them.

One of the remarks frequently made by employers during interviews was that conventional program advisory committees often accomplish little beyond fulfilling minimal requirements for employer involvement in program governance. There are many creative ways to give such an advisory committee a boost. For example, colleges should explore the benefits of adopting the BILT model, which gives participating employers a co-leadership role in shaping program content and long-term trajectories. By design, BILTs meet regularly to determine what program graduates should know and be able to do, and they keep an eye on future trends. Among the participants in this study, where the BILT model was in place, the experiences of employers, college personnel, and students were overwhelmingly positive.

Where possible, colleges should build on existing relationships. For example, employers in the community may already participate in job fairs or career days, and they may be willing to offer site tours or job shadowing opportunities or develop internships or apprenticeships. Perhaps an employer is interested in exploring these options but doesn’t know how. The college can provide both information and assistance, helping establish the institution as a valuable resource. Colleges should not wait for employers to reach out, but rather take the first steps. By initiating contact, positioning themselves as community resources, and communicating in a timely, consistent manner with employers, colleges can lay the foundation for a durable collaborative process that serves their own interests as well as the interests of their employer partners, while greatly enhancing the education and career outcomes of their students.