Business Collaboration and Job Readiness: How to Find, Launch, and Retain Partnerships

Fried catfish, shrimp gumbo, hush puppies, cherry cheesecake—the table groans with food. "Raised 'em ourselves. We've got over 10,000 acres of catfish ponds," explains Gene Raffield, Chief Executive Officer of Raffield Fisheries and community task force member who was part of the Gulf County Project we set up, which that is described in Chapter 1.

It's 1988, and I'm sitting with Raffield, one of the Florida business leaders who helped launch the project in Gulf County, Florida. That project transformed academic performance and college readiness in Port St. Joe and Wewahitchka, Florida, and sparked what would later become CFES (College for Every Student) Brilliant Pathways. Raffield Fisheries hosted dozens of task force meetings and exposed Gulf County youth to employment opportunities in the region. Since 1991, rural CFES schools have partnered with more than 800 businesses like Raffield Fisheries that have offered financial, in-kind, and mentorship opportunities (Dalton & Erdmann, 1990).

As the familiar adage goes, "it takes a village to raise a child"—and nowhere is this more true than in rural education. Rural families and schools, which have limited time, resources, and money, often find it difficult to provide students with the knowledge and opportunities they need to succeed in the world of the future. This is where CFES' intentional collaboration with caring citizens such as Gene Raffield, along with local businesses, nonprofits, and other allies, can fill crucial gaps.

This chapter explores these partnerships and outlines the critical roles they play in not just providing financial support for schools but in helping schools prepare students for the professional world. It shares some of the many creative ways educational partners have supported schools and their students, as well as presents practical advice on how to identify and recruit potential partners and how to retain existing ones. The chapter also shares stories that illustrate the impact partners have had: Sometimes, it only takes the right mentoring or the right exposure to outside opportunities to change a student's life for the better.

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