From the day we suit up our children with their first backpacks and deliver them to kindergarten or preschool, Kern County’s future workforce is entrusted largely to our local educators. For the next 13-plus years, our youth often spend more of their weekday waking hours in a school environment than they do at home.
Schools and parents are collaborating more and more, but there’s another partner that should be added to the alliance: the business community.
Nearly 70 percent of Kern County’s high school graduates will end their schooling with a high school diploma. Most will continue their education, seeking a two- or four-year degree. Regardless of the amount of education a job applicant has on their resume, local employers are anxious for candidates who possess the skills (hard and soft) to fill their open positions.
Students whose schools connect them with the “real world” and expose them to industry opportunities and expectations are able to identify areas of interest and hone their skills at an early age. Bringing business into the classroom can give students a leg up in their future careers and sets them up for success by equipping them with the skills and information employers need.
Linking Education and Business Builds a Better Talent Pool
The Kern Economic Development Foundation encourages businesses to interact with administrators, teachers and students of all ages. Truth is, educators and professionals are all so busy with their day-to-day responsibilities that they may not naturally think about merging their worlds. Creating career-ready graduates, however, requires commitment from both the education and business communities.
How Can Educators Engage Business in a Meaningful Way?
Many of Kern County’s best practices in collaboration between education and business take place in higher education and at the high school level.
The Executive Advisory Council of CSUB’s School of Business and Public Administration provides an excellent platform for businesses to offer valuable input on local industry needs and trends. Two years ago, BPA launched the Student Professional Development Initiative, which brings 21 professionals onto campus to provide career advising and mock interviews in one-on-one meetings with more than 100 students.
Independence High School’s Energy and Utilities Academy welcomes dozens of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) professionals to campus each month to partner with small group student mentoring and other events that build students’ skills, like public speaking and business strategy development. Partnerships like this not only encourage students to think about careers but also encourage engagement in their classes. A report by Big Brothers Big Sisters of America states that students who meet regularly with mentors are 52 percent less likely than their peers to skip a day of school and 37 percent less likely to skip a class.
It’s Never Too Soon to Bring Business into the Classroom
Does business really have a role in an elementary school classroom? It certainly does, according to Stuart Packard, superintendent of the Buttonwillow Union School District.
“As a superintendent, you have to have business contacts,” Packard said.
He is passionate about preparing his small district’s 380 students for success, and he views business partnerships as an essential tool. Whether they help with financial contributions or by providing event volunteers, business partnerships are coveted among his and other rural school districts.
Clean Harbors, located just west of Buttonwillow, provides financial support by paying for the district’s sixth-grade students to attend Camp KEEP. The contribution is critical in the district, which is comprised of mostly low-income families who might not otherwise be able to afford to send their children.
Packard said he constantly searches for ways to bring professionals and students face-to-face, too.
“We need to expose kids to business people who know what they are going to need,” he said.
It’s a challenging endeavor for all schools, but especially for rural school districts that have fewer nearby businesses, he said. California Resources Corporation volunteers work at the district’s Science Night and other events.
Packard cultivates partnerships in all areas of his life. He uses Facebook, LinkedIn, and his personal and business relationships to grow his network in hopes of benefitting his students.
Some teachers are natural promoters, Packard said, but everyone has the opportunity at some level to inform and invite business partners into the classroom.
Bringing education and business together will be key to building a better-prepared workforce for our community, and the future of Kern County’s economy depends on it.
Cheryl Scott is the executive director of the Kern Economic Development Foundation.