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Utilizing Advisory Committees

Operational Guidelines For General And Occupational Advisory Committees

 Rules for Operation (By-laws)

The question of whether an advisory committee can best operate under the guidance of by-laws is one for the individual school to decide.  By-laws inform members of their duties and responsibilities and define the organization of a committee.  Because by-laws tend to formalize a group, some schools feel that they may be a deterrent to the relaxed atmosphere conducive to the best input from committee members.  In such cases, an informal list of responsibilities instead of by-laws may be used.

The following may be included in either by-laws or informal guidelines:

  • terms of service for members;
  • officers and the responsibilities of each office;
  • procedures for the establishment of subcommittees (subcommittees, which are appointed by the group, may or may not include non-members);
  • the establishment of a program of work;
  • guidelines for committee meetings (number, time, length, etc.);
  • responsibilities of members; and
  • provision for minutes and review of committee recommendations by the administration

Subcommittees

The number and use of subcommittees depend primarily on the size of the advisory committee and the amount of activities it is asked to undertake.  When committee membership is greater than ten or twelve or responsibilities are numerous, subcommittees can effectively enhance organization and lighten the load for the entire group.

Subcommittees may be standing, in which case they operate for the entire year or term of service, or ad hoc (appointed for a specific function and terminated when the function has been completed).  The most common standing committee is the executive committee, consisting of elected officers and the designated school representative.  The executive committee sets agendas, assists the chairperson in appointing other subcommittee members, and takes care of other matters related to committee membership.

When an advisory committee undertakes any project that will be continuous, a standing subcommittee may be established to direct that responsibility. An ad hoc subcommittee will be beneficial almost anytime an advisory committee undertakes a special project. Occupational advisory committees might appoint ad hoc subcommittees for task inventories, labor force needs surveys, career days, scholarships or industrial tours.

Program of Work

A program of work helps make the operation of the advisory committee efficient and effective.  The program is a guide for activities the committee will undertake to assist the general or occupational career and technical program.

Before a committee can plan a program of work, members must be familiar with the program's curriculum, goals, and objectives.  With this basis of understanding, the committee first reviews the program to identify areas that deserve consideration and then plans approaches to solutions.

Usually, a program of work is prepared annually by an ad hoc subcommittee; however, the program of work should never become cumbersome.  In the general advisory committee, the CTE director is responsible for making recommendations, or making third party recommendations, known to the committee.  In the case of an occupational advisory committee, the instructional staff is responsible for recommending efficient operating procedures to the committee.  If preparing a program of work annually ceases to be a help, the instructional staff may recommend modifying the procedure to promote efficiency.

EXAMPLE: A secondary automotive mechanics program developed a system of three-year planning. The advisory committee planned equipment needs, instructional materials, and budgeting three years in advance, adding a year's plan each year. This system keeps the plan one year ahead of an entering student's completion time.

Effective Operational Practices

The effectiveness of an advisory committee is the result of sound organization.  The following practices help ensure the effective operation of both occupational and general advisory committees:

  • Inform members of their duties and responsibilities before they begin work (provide them with written guidelines and/or by-laws).
  • Keep the committee active. Continually solicit and consider its advice.
  • Inform members of the operation of the Career and Technical Education program and the school.
  • Provide committee members contact with students. At least once a year, either invite students to meetings for an open question-and-answer session with members or hold a meeting during class for the same purpose.  An occupational advisory committee can effectively use this procedure several times a year.
  • Ask school administrators, on the recommendation of the instructional staff, to select advisory committee members and to make other appointments.
  • Keep rosters revised and current. Replace, as quickly as possible, a member who resigns.  Provide members with current rosters.

Meeting Plans And Procedures

Planning Committee Meetings

The agenda for each meeting should be established well in advance of the scheduled meeting. It may be prepared jointly by the chairperson and instructional program representative or by a subcommittee (usually the executive committee).  To set an agenda, planners first review the minutes of prior meetings to determine old business and then consult the annual program of work to decide which items of new business are ready for consideration.

Members should receive the agenda in time for adequate review before the meeting. Minutes of the last meeting may be included.  At times, other material that committee members need to study in advance before the meeting (for example, proposed curriculum changes or plans for new program offerings) should also be included with the agenda.

The following planning considerations increase the effectiveness of advisory committee meetings:

  • Schedule an advisory committee meeting at the Career and Technical Education program's facilities at least twice a year.  Additional meetings may be elsewhere, such as the Chamber of Commerce.
  • Hold regular meetings in a centralized location with comfortable seating and space for writing.
  • If possible, provide simple refreshments for meetings.  If funds are available, occasional meals are a nice addition.  Sometimes, student organizations or a Family and Consumer Sciences class will provide meals or refreshments for advisory committee meetings.
  • Each time the membership changes, poll the members to determine the most convenient meeting time.  Some business people prefer to attend meetings during the work day, while others are unable to do so.
  • If it appears that a meeting may last more than two hours, use some method that will shorten the time (save part of the business for the next meeting, hold an interim meeting or appoint a subcommittee for a lengthy item).
  • Meeting frequency usually ranges from monthly to quarterly.  Quarterly meetings are adequate for many committees.  Biannual meetings are many times sufficient if the subcommittees are active.

Conducting Meetings

An advisory committee is most effective when its work is conducted informally. Parliamentary procedure can be used when a decision is to be recorded or transmitted. Otherwise, free, open discussion leading to consensus is recommended.

Members come to the advisory committee with a variety of opinions and ideas.  Unless they feel free to express these ideas, the group becomes merely a rubber stamp of someone else's thoughts.  Members need to know that their opinions are wanted. Frank, open discussion is necessary.  The chairperson has the responsibility of bringing the group to consensus when opinions differ.

When an advisory committee is newly formed or reactivated, the CTE director or instructional personnel, in the occupational committee case, carry the major operational responsibility.  The CTE director orients members on committee functions and duties and acquaints newly appointed members with the design and operation of the CTE program; or the instructional staff in the occupational committee development orients members, and the CTE director, or staff member, usually presides at the first meeting.

Once the advisory committee is functioning well, the CTE director, or instructional staff, may assume a consulting role.  While it is necessary that the CTE director be present at all meetings to give reports and to answer questions, committee members will preside and will make all decisions.

Officers

Officers are usually selected at the beginning of each year and begin their duties immediately. The chairperson presides and keeps the business of the meeting "on track." A chairperson who conducts business fairly and speedily is vital to an effective committee.

A chairperson is necessary for all advisory groups, but many groups do not formally select a vice-chairperson.  However, this position can add stability to the committee.  In addition to presiding in the absence of the chairperson, the vice-chairperson may head the program-of-work subcommittee and serve as chairperson-elect for the following year.  

Instructional representatives who have access to clerical help are often designated as secretaries.  The secretary prepares and mails meeting agendas, announcements, minutes, etc.  Preparation of minutes is a difficult responsibility in the informal setting of the advisory committee.  The secretary must decide which portions of the discussion are important to decision making and record them accurately.

Note: Although the CTE director (or instructor) coordinates with the chairperson and secretary, s/he should assume the responsibilities of either.

Guidelines For Communication

Written Materials

The CTE Director, or instructional staff, can provide the following materials for advisory committee members:

Newsletters. A newsletter is a very effective form of communication between the CTE director, the instructional staff, and advisory committee members.

  • Members are continually informed of the current operations of the program(s).
  • Members are advised of the activities of students.  Many newsletters carry information on graduates and provide an important employment contact.
  • Members know the staff appreciates their work and is willing to spend time keeping them informed.

Choose a newsletter style to fit your situation.  A short, simple monthly newsletter is excellent, although some prefer to send more lengthy quarterly newsletters.  Information may include program enrollment, class activities, information on students nearing graduation, etc.  Many instructional programs also use newsletters as a recruiting or placement tool, sending them to businesses and industries as well as to committee members.

For occupational advisory committees, copies of the curriculum and course descriptions and, when requested, syllabi of individual courses.

Members can give advice only when they have a thorough knowledge of instructional content.  Give members these items prior to their first meeting and send updates any time the curriculum is changed.

Advisory committee notebook. Provide a folder or notebook in which members keep committee materials.

Members' handbook. Content may include:

  • an organizational chart of the system or school;
  • the history of career and technical education in the system or at the school;
  • an overview of the systems advisory committees and the purpose of each;
  • the duties and responsibilities of the advisory committee; and
  • the duties and responsibilities of the system or the school.

Recognition of Members

Advisory committee members willingly give time and expertise in service to the school system or school.  The system or school, in return, should recognize their service in every way possible.  Public recognition also benefits the school system.  Community leaders who voluntarily associate themselves with a CTE program add to that program's prestige.

Suggestions for recognition include the following:

  • Present a plaque or framed certificate of appreciation at the end of the first year of service or at the end of a term.
  • Write media releases announcing appointments.
  • Publish members' names in the school catalog.
  • Prepare a well-designed display board for the entrance to the Career and Technical Education program area, listing advisory committee members.  A permanent plaque with either changeable nameplates or space for additions will provide for changes in membership.
  • Hold a recognition night for advisory committee members.
  • Recognize specific contributions of the committee in the media, at school awards ceremonies or at school board meetings.

Use Of Committee Input

The formation of an advisory committee implies that the group's advice will be considered. It must be remembered though that the advisory committee is not a policy-making body; therefore, there may be occasions when a specific recommendation is rejected by administrators or by program personnel.

All of the advisory committee's recommendations must be acknowledged in writing.  A written report of the action taken on each recommendation should be presented to the group as soon as possible.

A full explanation, written or verbal, must be made to the advisory committee when a recommendation is rejected.  If the recommendations are sound and feasible, appropriate action should be taken quickly.

Listed below are steps in a suggested process for following through on an advisory committee recommendation.

  • Send minutes of the meeting to all instructional personnel and appropriate administrators and to the school board or trustees;
  • School or institution personnel decide the action to be taken on the advisory committee's recommendation;
  • Inform all committee members immediately after the decision is made that:
    • the suggestion is implemented as originated;
    • the suggestion is implemented with modification and explanation; or
    • the suggestion is declined with explanation.
  • Report the decision again at the next advisory committee meeting and hold further discussion, when requested.