Monday, May 22, 2017

Businesses should open doors to school kids

There is a growing crisis in the job market. Well-paying full-time jobs with good benefits are going unfilled, with owners and managers of blue-collar employers (factories, farms, trucking firms, the building trades) having a difficult time finding skilled workers or even apprentices interested in that line of work.

It’s an outcome of a couple decades of misplaced priorities in society and education. Adults, whether in the home or in the classroom, had purposely driven kids away from the trades, thinking that such careers are demeaning and low-paying, on the path to extinction, and that college is the unquestioned key to success.

None of those beliefs are true nor have they ever been. Now, the adults who once believed them are waking up to that, especially since recent college grads find themselves crushed by debt and unable to find a good job due to an overabundance of college degrees, alleged over-qualification, and a tipsy economy.

Teachers, counselors, policy makers and parents now find themselves doing a 180, changing the culture that their predecessors had put into play for far too long. They are seeing the value in all work and all trades and doing what they can to promote them among today’s youths. But, after decades of society going in the other direction, it’s a tough sell and a slow one.

That’s where employers can help out.

Those same bosses who routinely complain about the deficient workforce need to do something other than whine.

They need to do as they do in their workplaces – get their hands dirty, get involved. They need to reach out to the schools and put themselves out there. Guidance from real world people can go a long ways in getting students interested in skilled work and settled on a career that will keep them comfortable for life.

It’s an easy and effective pursuit, one that we’ve practiced for some time at the plant and I strongly encourage other employers to follow suit. There are three simple ways that you can do this: speak to classes, host tours, and let kids shadow.

Speaking to a classroom is the easiest investment of your time. You have a captive audience that you can speak to for a half-hour to an hour and those students tend to be appreciative and interested as it’s a break from the routine of that same room. While it’s the easiest option, it’s the least effective, as other than a slideshow or brochure, the kids really can’t see what you do. 

Experiential learning is the best way to garner interest and that’s why tours are a far better option. You can give the same spiel that you would in the classroom, but the kids can also see people working, machines functioning, and goods being produced. That awesomeness of what you do every day can be an attention-grabber. It doesn’t matter if you manufacture kayaks, milk cows, or build warehouses – kids will eat it up. I’ve had fifth-graders, middle schoolers, high school seniors and college students go through the factory, all of them with wide eyes and keen interest.

Shadowing takes tours to another level and to make it happen it generally requires a full day and your willingness to share a lot of your time and knowledge -- and that of your coworkers – with students. We’ve done this at the plant quite a few times with students from schools like Barker and Niagara Catholic. They were able to choose from various career paths (machining, maintenance, trucking, business) and get to feel it out with a watchful eye as a learner, observing what our folks do while hearing of the finer details of why they do it.     

While most employers won’t directly benefit from such activities -- the chances of you recruiting someone for your company is slim (and it should not be your goal) – those kids with whom you speak will. It will give them interest, purpose, and direction.

If you are serious about the quality of our workforce, the future of our kids, and the health of our economy, open your doors and open your hearts and partner with our local schools. We have a culture in education and employment that we need to transform, and it takes baby steps like these to affect change.  

From 22 May 2017 Greater Niagara Newspapers 

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