Executives from some of Milwaukee’s largest companies greeted hundreds of Cristo Rey Jesuit High School students and distributed company swag at Northwestern Mutual’s downtown headquarters on Friday, kicking off the school’s annual corporate work study program in the style of a professional sports draft.
Four hundred students met the leaders of the businesses where they have been assigned to work throughout the school year as part of the school’s signature work study program.
The program pairs corporate partners with groups of students who work at the company, collectively fulfilling the role of a full-time employee.
Now in its fourth year, the program has grown from having 22 corporate partners in 2015 to more than 70. Among them are seven Fortune 500 companies with Milwaukee headquarters, including Northwestern Mutual, ManpowerGroup, Kohl’s, WEC Energy Group, Harley-Davidson and Rockwell Automation.
At their respective assignments, students complete administrative tasks, take on project-based work and experience the day-to-day routines of working in a corporate setting, said Joe Mazza, director of the Corporate Work Study Program. Each student works at their assigned company for five full work days each month. The program is designed to teach students soft skills that will help them find jobs after they graduate and network in the Milwaukee business community.
“It gives them a leg up,” Mazza said. “If they get four years of corporate work experience in college, by the time they graduate, they will have eight years experience working in a corporate setting.”
Mazza attributes the school’s growing list of corporate partners to the high-quality work students do, as well as a recognition that investing in high school students is good for Milwaukee.
“Companies see this for what it is, which is developing the pipeline of future, diverse, educated, homegrown talent that’s going to stay in Milwaukee,” Mazza said.
Raymone Jackson, director of diversity and inclusion for Northwestern Mutual, said the company participates in the program because of its commitment to education and developing a future workforce. It’s also, he said, just the “right thing to do.”
“As we think of our community, strengthening Milwaukee, and being a destination for people to live work and play, a big part of that is not just the educational ecosystem, but the ecosystem overall,” Jackson said. “I think these kinds of pairings, of education and corporate America, create the perfect formula for success.
Cristo Rey’s corporate partnerships are growing as the school’s enrollment continues to increase. With projected ongoing enrollment of 500 students, the school recently acquired a building in Milwaukee’s Clarke Square neighborhood that is more than double the size of its current West Milwaukee building.
The school purchased the 113,000-square-foot building at 1818 W. National Avenue, the site of a former Pick ‘n Save, with plans to open the new location in fall 2019.