Why involve your business with a local school?

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:27 pm

Why involve your business with a local school?
By Richard Herzfeld, for SBT
The delivery of educational services in the Milwaukee area is changing. That change can be most successful if driven by collaborative partnerships with businesses, universities and colleges, technical schools and community organizations.
Recent talk at one of my local breakfast spots was about a newspaper headline proclaiming Milwaukee Public Schools students’ low math scores. No one lacked an opinion:
“It’s the teachers’ fault!”
“No, It’s the class sizes!”
“It’s the state’s fault for taking away funding!”
“No, it’s the parent’s fault for not caring!”
“We need more discipline!”
“The kids have too much homework already!”
Each happily shared his or her opinion.
Not unexpected in that environment, I overheard no practical solution. Most people assume the problems are endemic and, I believe, seldom wonder, “What might I do to change the situation?”
I wondered how many of them, — and some were business owners — had thought of actually doing something positive.
If the circumstances are as bad as often portrayed, businesses have to be concerned about the future workforce. We cannot afford to hold negative opinions and still stand by idly. We cannot afford to passively commiserate over the overall, seemingly hopeless pictures painted by the media.
There are many ways businesses of every size or discipline can influence tomorrow’s workforce, and not all cost money or demand excessive efforts from the businesses.
Many MPS high schools have advisory boards, comprising members from business and higher education. Teachers get regular updates on business practices, software and hardware trends, changing secondary education admission policies and more. While much of the business’ efforts are altruistic and practical, members get many benefits, as well, such as a pool of well-prepared student interns and being part of the “solution.” And the demands on a business can be as minimal as an hour or two each month during the school year.
Today’s high schools are challenged in their task to help students achieve high academic standards and develop essential workplace skills. Any parent knows that high school students are exploring their independence. Listening to parental and school advice is not always uppermost in their attention scheme. However, an outsider with business experience, especially those closer to their own age, has a good chance of holding their attention long enough for a message to be heard. Your company and its employees can be teaching tools used to involve students with the business community, to explore career opportunities and to show that the life long learning skills they are being taught are important and can lead to success in academic and vocational work.
Business partnerships with schools are equally important in providing opportunities for staff development for instructors. Teachers need to visit a variety of businesses and post-secondary schools to develop a working knowledge of changing business tactics and employability skills. A particular job shadowing experience might include reviewing interviewing skills, learning how employees are evaluated or terminated, participating in a team meeting to see how individuals contribute to a group effort, and simply observing the daily activities.
Well-informed teachers, through in-service training at local businesses, bring up-to-date experience back to the school, refreshing the classroom curriculum. A wide variety of industry experiences in and out of the classroom contributes to well-informed and motivated instructors.
Involving your business with an MPS high school advisory board can change the outlook for one or more of today’s juniors and seniors and improve the chances for those coming after them. Business supported activities include:
– Advisory only
– Intern positions
– Mentoring and shadowing opportunities for students and teachers
– Work-readiness training for students
– Industry familiarization tours for students and teachers
– Curriculum development
– Professional development/mentoring for staff
– Speak to student classes
– Fund raising
– Monetary and equipment donations
I belong to an advisory board that has participated in each of the above listed items. Some companies do more than others, according to their resources and commitment. And the positive results can be identified; more important, they continue to grow, as was expressed at our October meeting by one local board member that uses several interns every summer for various jobs. We heard that this year, more so than in the past, the students understood how to behave in a business environment and knew that they had to adhere to the established work hours. Those comments reflect well on the emphasis the school has placed on employability skills.
The example also relates directly to the common complaints many businesses have about new hires who dress sloppily and who feel no responsibility to their employers, feeling no need for punctuality or not understanding the consequences to the business when they skip a day of work.
To successfully resolve any of today’s educational issues, even the most well-thought-out and well-funded programs will require more than good strategy and money. I believe my experience has shown that they can be more successful through interaction with the business community.
We expect high schools to equip their charges with a solid foundation for the rest of their lives. Whether for a job or continued education, schools — especially high schools — have the task of enhancing student communication skills, developing employability skills, teaching and improving student punctuality, instilling behavior respectful to persons, property and environment, and increasing student use and understanding of technology.
Are any of these not critical for the success of your business?
To contribute to the growth of tomorrow’s workforce through high school advisory boards, you don’t have to be a company that hires high school students; you don’t need to have engineering, computer or other special skills. You simply need to be concerned and have some knowledge about the needs of businesses like yours. As a two, then three, and now one-person business, my rewarding participation on an MPS high school advisory board began in the mid-1980s.
Call the principal at a high school near you, or perhaps a school that has a special emphasis or academy focusing on your particular business segment or critical need. Ask if the school has a business advisory board and if you might attend one of its meetings.
Or, contact me and I’ll put you in touch with someone who can do so.
Richard Herzfeld is co-owner of TechComm Associates, a public relations firm in Milwaukee. He can be reached at 414-445-2670.
Due to my involvement with computer and other technologies, I was invited in the mid-1980s to join the Technical Advisory Board (TAC) for Milwaukee Public Schools’ Computer Specialty at Washington High School. The TAC recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, having been established in the late 1970s by several local businesses that recognized at that time a future need for computer literacy. This advisory committee comprises business, higher education, MPS district and high school members. It assists in the development of curriculum, marketing strategies, equipment changes, staff training, funding, and student internship positions. Today, that board advises Washington’s Academy of Information Science, one of only 25 such schools throughout the United States. It continues to guide the school as it addresses future needs related to changing technologies. Thanks to board participants from as far away as Green Bay and Whitewater, students at Washington have access to a variety of industry-rich experiences and higher education advice.
— Richard Herzfeld
Nov. 28, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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