Ask any five year old what she wants to be when she grows up, and her response will range from princess to superhero to professional athlete. Ask again when she’s ten, and her answer may be doctor, teacher or police officer.

In middle and high school, she begins to understand how she’s wired, what her interest areas are, what she’s good at and what career paths she wants to pursue. Her pathway will be influenced by her parents, friends, teachers and social media. But more than any other factor, her future will be determined by her experiences during these years.

Lately, schools have been trying to find ways to create real-world work experiences in the classroom. Strategic business partners can offer insight into what industry needs from the future workforce. So getting involved in your local advisory board is always a great idea.

But the best experiences occur on an interpersonal level. If your company goes beyond the advisory level to working face-to-face with a student, that investment will pay off abundantly. Because when it’s time for her to enter the workforce, she will remember your business first.

Here are three ways your business should be working with local students.

1. Hire Students Over School Break

Summer is quickly approaching, and droves of high school and college students will be looking for ways to make extra money. Most will apply for popular student jobs, like fast-food, waiting tables or babysitting. But what if they knew the full spectrum of opportunities available? Like the chance to work with high-tech automation equipment honing valuable hard skills.

An engineering student works at a local manufacturing business over winter breakThink of the number of eager, talented students who are mechanically-inclined and could be an excellent addition to your facility for the summer. The benefits are really endless: finish projects that have been put on the wayside, create room for an incumbent employee to train new skills, and more. And it gives you a chance to pour into a young person, inspiring and influencing their career pathway.

And it’s not just the gear-heads who make good manufacturing employees. This winter break, university students returned from their semesters all across the country to work in manufacturing facilities in their hometown. These students are pursuing degrees in Business, English, Political Science and Engineering. Their hands-on work experience broadened their perspective on career possibilities and stands out on a resume. Read the full story here.

This is the best option for businesses who haven’t yet taken the leap to get more involved in the local schools, but who still want to provide learning opportunities to students. Since it doesn’t involve any outside organizations and the work is done at your facility, this is a great starting point.

2. Partner with Students for Capstone Projects

If you’re ready to get a little more involved in the curriculum level at your local high school or technical college, volunteering to participate in capstone projects is a great next step.

Graduating seniors in technical education programs will often be assigned a senior capstone project to put their learning into practice. At times instructors will seek a local employer to pair with a student for this project.

The relationship built through this interaction is a win-win. It allows the student to see what working in that industry is really like. At the same time, the employer builds rapport with the school and the student. A semester-long investment can turn into a lifelong employee. And it opens the door for further involvement in school-industry partnerships in the future: when the school is making big decisions, they may ask for your input.

A robotics and automation student partners with local business for his capstone projectHere’s a firsthand look at capstone project partnerships: Robotics and Automation seniors at Madison College partner with an industrial employer to design and automate a process used on their manufacturing line. These proof-of-concept projects entail working with electrical, pneumatic and mechanical components as well as PLC, HMI and Robot programming.

The company may implement the design into their process, or even hire the student upon graduation. Watch this video for a great example of a student capstone project, or view the album of the 2019 Capstone Showcase.

Check with your local school to see if they are in need of business partners for capstone projects. And if a school-business partnership is new to their project guidelines? It’s a great opportunity for you to get in on the ground floor.

3. Participate in Work-Based Learning and Youth Apprenticeships

Work-based learning and Youth Apprenticeship programs allow students to complete their education while gaining work experience under the mentorship of an industry leader. While this is the largest time investment for an employer, it provides the strongest connection between business and education in developing the career path for a student.

In the program, students receive instruction at school that aligns with skills required by industry. They then get paid to work, led by an experienced mentor while getting a taste of multiple aspects of the industry. Assessments and certifications prove that the student completed a rigorous program and is competent in the skills employers need.

Contact the Department of Workforce Development to get involved in Youth Apprenticeships. There are also groups like GPS Education Partners, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing work-based learning experiences to students across the Midwest.

Bottom Line: Get Involved

The world of work is a place of constant innovation, growth and change. With that growth comes new highly-skilled positions and a need for people to fill them. Educators already have limited resources to update their curriculum and equipment on a regular basis without expecting them to also be in-the-know with the specific skilled labor needs of every industry.

If you want candidates seeking after your company and capable of filling your skilled positions, then it’s up to you to get involved with the future workforce. Whether that’s a small initial investment or going all-in, the face-to-face time with students will set you apart from all the other companies vying for their work.