Your job, above all else, is to instruct your students. You all work hard to develop your students’ hands-on skills, mechanical and intellectual capacity, and even their social/emotional ability to be successful in the workforce. In addition to your required teaching tasks, you spend countless days and hours on committees, responding to emails, learning about new technologies, re-accreditation, and most recently developing your online delivery techniques. And yet, the most important element – enrollment – often feels out of your control. For those of you with empty seats in your rooms, I know you’re feeling the pressure. So, what can you do?
I believe instructor engagement in the recruitment process is essential to healthy enrollment. I also believe that instructors have many things to focus on, so their recruitment efforts should offer the highest return on investment. Here are five impactful recruitment strategies for that won’t take too much of your time:
1) Recruit the Recruiters
Develop a relationship with recruiters. Especially in the trades, recruiters often don’t know anything about what your program does. And, without your help, they may never know. Often worse, they might be intimidated by you and your work and may instead avoid talking about your program and what you do. So, spend a few minutes drafting an email invitation (bonus points for asking in person) to your admissions reps and recruiters asking them to visit you during one of your classes. Yes, that’s right, allow for your class time to be “interrupted” as you show recruiters what your class looks like in action. Be enthusiastic and optimistic with them as you showcase your program – imagine that you’re recruiting the recruiter. Be the author of your own story. Your goal is for them to learn what you do and be inspired. We want them to share your enthusiasm with prospective parents and students. By “recruiting the recruiters” you are developing the top of the pyramid, so to speak, which will hopefully result in more meaningful and positive conversations with prospects. Just as important, you are showing your recruiters that you respect their effort and you wish to support them. Remember, it’s not an easy job to be an expert in every program at a college. By investing in them first, and respecting their role, you are also investing in yourself and your program. Having a positive partnership with your college’s recruiters is essential.
2) Ask Students About Their Favorite/Most Influential Teachers
To be honest, this is the most labor intensives of the five strategies. But, hear me out anyway…
Most of you already incorporate some small talk into your classes. This is a good thing. You often intentionally talk about workplace expectations, industry experiences, and personal interests. Go one step further and ask them what high school they went to and who their most influential teacher was. Take notes! You are now developing a contact list of teacher influencers. With any luck, these students also had a positive impact on that teacher. Here’s the part that will take a little time, but maybe just a little. Find an email address (often these students can produce this for you if you ask) for those favorite instructors and send them a message. I would suggest a narrative like this:
“Dear Mrs. Techteacher,
I’m writing to say thank you for the positive influence you had on Kenny Doowit. He’s a promising student and he specifically identified you as one of his favorite teachers. If there is anything I can do to help you or your students learn more about what we do here at XYZ College, please don’t hesitate to reach out. If you or your students would like a tour I would be happy to connect with a guide or show you around myself. Thank you for all you do for your students and for inspiring Kenny.”
Recognizing the good work of other teachers not only makes them more receptive to your message (like catching more bees with honey), but it shows them you value high quality education. This will hopefully help them be more confident about expressing the value and credibility of you and your program. Students are greatly influenced by the guidance of teachers, especially those that they think are the “best.” A positive relationship with influential teachers will never hurt your program.
3) Showcase Excellent Student / Instructor Ratios
I’m not gonna sugar coat this at all – lower enrollment often means more one-on-one time between students and instructors. So, until those numbers increase to meet institutional goals, you might as well showcase it as an advantage. Talk to prospective parents and students about the individualized opportunities your program provides with excellent student / instructor ratios. Remind parents and prospects (and recruiters) that one-on-one instructor time allows for more individualized instruction and smaller class sizes increase access to technology and classroom resources. Of course, this also likely means access to ample opportunities for internships and job shadows, with essentially 100% job placement after graduation. If you’re hanging your head about low enrollment, you’re already half way to putting your head down and driving yourself out of it. Talk about the benefits of the situation and turn it into a competitive advantage. You either have one of the lowest enrollments in the state or you have one of the best student / instructor ratios in the state. This strategy is not spin, it’s authentic and transparent. This attitude and narrative might permeate your marketing and admissions departments as well.
4) Have “Prospect Tool Kits” On Hand
No, I’m not talking about shop tools or emergency flares. But, I am talking about being prepared. Create pre-made packets (tool kits) with brochures, business cards, safety glasses, screwdrivers, flashlights, car chargers, pens, etc. Your new friends in admissions might even help you with this. Be sure they are readily available and that every item in the “kit” is something useful that has your logo and contact info on it. Any items that include a personal touch, like your work email or business card, can show prospects and families that you are personally interested in them. Remember, if they email you with questions about things outside your wheelhouse, like financial aid or registration, you can always show them you care by referring them to someone more helpful. You can share these packets with students touring campus, industry partners in the community, and teachers or guidance counselors. Personally, I’m a big fan of items that adults will use and see often like coffee cups, pens, pizza cutters, and stuff they might set on their desks. The goal is for influencers to be reminded of you often, and to always know how to reach you and learn more about your program.
5) You Graduate Your Best Recruiters Each Year
I wish I could say those words are mine, but I stole them from an instructor I once worked with. He was adamant about the importance of how his students felt about the program once they left. He talked about those students going home at every semester and holiday break talking about their college experience. The premise being that friends and family would ask how they were doing, if they were having a good time, were they learning a lot, and if they liked their instructors. Once they left his program and ascended into the workforce, they would proudly speak of their training program with others. Thinking of every student as a future ambassador for your program doesn’t take extra time, but it does require intentional focus on building positive relationships with students. If you don’t already, ask your current students about friends, siblings, cousins, who might want to visit the program. Consider inviting former students to back for a visit, and share with them exciting things that are happening with the program. This is a classic example of how hard work today can, and will, pay off tomorrow. Be intentional about the environment you create in your program, and view students as future colleagues and ambassadors. Once tradition starts rolling, it’s often the most powerful recruiting tool of all!
You Are A Key Influencer
Contrary to popular belief, the Gen-Z digitally-driven generation is NOT making decisions about their future based on social media content. Gen-Z makes their most important decisions utilizing a combination of digital content and the support of trusted adults and peers. (Read more about reaching Gen-Z here.) Key influencers like parents, teachers, counselors, friends and family, youth leaders, and coaches have significant impact on what today’s young adult are choosing for their futures. You, too, will become a key influencer in the lives of those who enroll in your programs. Whether you choose to engage in any of these strategies, or others, or none at all, the importance of your presence must be acknowledged. Gen-Z isn’t just signing up for a career pathway, but also for people, for a meaningful life, and a chance to contribute to the world around them. Your programs are the beginning of the rest of their lives. You have a lot to do each day outside of recruiting, but you are still an integral part of the success of your enrollment.
Are there other great recruitment strategies that I should know about? Reach out to me if you want to talk more about your unique situation and possible action steps for you and your program.
Steve Hoemberg is the Director of Outreach at the Minnesota State Transportation Center of Excellence. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.