Volunteer to be a lifelong learner

Volunteerism can help business leaders gain valuable learning and critical thinking skills, according to Gary Meier, president of Metalworld Inc. in Racine, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. The company, formerly known as Racine Boiler and Tank, fabricates a wide variety of metal products.

“It was one of my last acts as the retiring chair of the management board of a private high school. I wrote a piece that was going in the school’s annual report that was sent to donors. What I highlighted was how the school encouraged students to be lifelong learners and critical thinkers.

“They were easy topics to highlight, because they were skills encouraged and accomplished by all the volunteer members of that board. Writing that piece was a healthy reminder of how these two skills can be practiced as a volunteer in any organization.

“What could be more enlightening, and rewarding, than coaching a youth sport? It involves taking a diverse group of kids with varying degrees of skill and teaching them to work as a team. Or taking it a step further and getting training to coach other coaches. And there are few things as difficult as managing the expectation of the player and the parent when it comes to youth athletics. No need to go to a self-help seminar on ‘How to Deal with Difficult People.’

“Want to learn more about the health care system in your area? Become a member of the health care committee at your local chamber or get active in the health care coalition to which your company may already belong. When I think back on my own experience of serving on the Wisconsin Private Employer Healthcare Coverage Board in the early 2000s, the knowledge I came away with about how health insurance operated in Wisconsin was invaluable.

“And after a year or two of getting comfortable in your volunteer position, don’t forget about the critical thinking part. Scrutinize that budget. Be willing to ask the tough question others will not. Look for facts and data, and reject the spin.

“Lifelong learners and critical thinkers are valuable to all organizations.”

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