5 Free Ways to Stay Connected with Employers and Strengthen Collaborations

5 Free Ways to Stay Connected with Employers and Strengthen Collaborations

Developing and maintaining relationships with local employers is always on the minds of Adult Education staff. How do we create partnerships that are mutually beneficial and most importantly, sustainable for both parties? Owatonna Adult Education is trying a few new methods this year to stay connected with partners and bolster their opportunities for collaboration. The best part is, all of their efforts are either budget friendly or completely free.


Canva is a gift from the Education gods and with infinite templates available, an e-newsletter can be created in a few hours time at no cost. Owatonna Adult Education started a monthly e-newsletter in January 2024 that welcomed their readers and included a “what’s new” section and some “center highlights.” Staff then connected with their school district’s Career Pathways Navigator for a master spreadsheet of HR managers across the county. A quick email including the e-newsletter was then sent along with an offer of adding those individuals to a listserv that would provide Adult Ed updates each month. The response from employers was encouraging and proved that connecting in this virtual way was helpful to our partners and provided a regular reminder that Owatonna Adult Ed is a collaborator that invests in its community.

To check out the e-newsletters, venture here: https://communityed.isd761.org/adult-basic-ed/newsletter.


WhatsApp has been gaining traction at the Owatonna Adult Education site. Not only is it free but it’s user friendly, and most of our students already utilize the app to speak with family and friends from back home. Initially, the staff implemented the usage of WhatsApp with their students because learners kept showing up to classes on district snow days. Now, WhatsApp is a standard part of their orientation process for new enrollees. Owatonna Adult Education recently hosted a Small Business Academy with the Small Business Area Development Center; the co-teacher asked to create a group on WhatsApp specifically for the class, which gave support staff the idea to broaden their communications with local employers.

Consider creating a WhatsApp Group for your ABE site, not only for your students but for your partners. Or better yet, have both communities in one group. It’s great to see community being built when employers engage the students virtually. Just be sure to set boundaries with regards to who can post and how frequently they can post. Typically, employers send their information to the site navigator to disperse, which leaves control in the hands of Adult Educators.

Coffee & Career Conversations

A staple of Owatonna Adult Ed programming has been Coffee & Career Conversations with local employers. Originally intended to fulfill portions of their IELCE grant, Owatonna Adult Ed invited local employers to share a cup of coffee with students and present information regarding their companies and their individual career paths that led them to a life in Owatonna.

Employers typically bring marketing materials, business cards, and application information while speaking to their career and educational pathway. Students learn more about local employers as well as job and educational opportunities, and practice their listening and speaking skills.

This year, the program has expanded to include presentations from local resource organizations that can directly benefit the student population. Visitors volunteer their time and coffee is provided on-site through Owatonna Community Education. Regular programming like this can create community on-site and in-person. Favorite moments include employers connecting with students and seeing their English improvement first-hand. Don’t forget to send thank-you notes to your visitors afterward!

Community Events

Every year Owatonna Adult Ed staff attend a community event, called “Project Community Connect,” that aims to help connect individuals and families who are facing homelessness or housing insecurity to resources in Steele County. Registration as a vendor is free, and the only additional cost is time and optional promotional items. The return on this simple investment is huge! Not only do you get to connect with members of the community but also organizations from across the county.

Last year, Owatonna Adult Education signed up nearly 30 new students and created partnerships with the Hospitality House, HealthFinders Collaborative, and Community Pathways. These partners regularly consult with the Adult Ed staff as they plan new course offerings, assist students with resources and scholarships, and refer students to the Adult Learning Center.

Don’t forget: these partnerships must be a “two-way street.” Always discuss with your team as to how you can provide benefits and opportunities to your partners. Are there local community events that you could attend to represent your ABE site to help build your partner network?

Student Success Celebrations

Owatonna Adult Education has a student leadership council that consists of Adult Learners who engage is career, college, and life skills learning opportunities. Last year, the council hosted a Student Success Celebration that wrapped up the school year on a most positive note for students, staff, families, and employer partners. The purpose of the event was to celebrate all Adult Learners and their achievements from the school year, and it included food, music, kid’s activities, a photo booth, and a gift raffle!

Sound expensive? Not so! If you have strong relationships with your community partners, and a thrifty staff, most of the expense will go to food. For this event, the kid’s activities, photo booth materials, dessert, and prizes for the gift raffle were all donated. Free accounts on Canva, Gmail, and social media took care of the invitations and Spotify took care of the music. All efforts resulted in a packed building with over 150 in attendance!

Okay, so this event wasn’t completely free, but it was as close as you can get for the engagement that was gained from local employers and organizations! Consider a large end-of-the-year celebration, or even just a simple end-of-the-year e-postcard thanking your partners for their continued support.

Get connected to and build upon your employer partnerships by trying any and all of these engagement opportunities at little or no cost to your program. A little effort goes a long way in the benefit of your students!

Lydia Yahnke, Adult Programs Coordinator Owatonna Adult Education