How do you make the case for businesses to be involved in the local schools?
It’s a tough sell, to be honest, particularly in the wake of a recession that saw many companies downsizing. Even today, as the business climate has warmed just a bit, companies are understandably slow to expand and shy about bringing new people into the fold. Many companies have retreated to their core business and remain intensely focused on making sales and producing product at lower costs. They are looking for increased productivity from their remaining workers and that’s hard to accomplish when they spend half a day at a career fair at the local high school.
That approach doesn’t leave a lot of time or resources for community engagement. The rise of the corporate business model has chipped away at the philosophy of community-mindedness. Factories, stores and offices in places like Wendell, Garner, Zebulon or Knightdale are more likely to be viewed by the company’s ownership as just another business unit and not a supporter of the local community.
Fortunately, schools are one of two areas – emergency services is the other – the local business community is generally willing to support.
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At East Wake’s career fair a couple weeks ago, more than 40 businesses were represented. They were asked to talk to students about careers and what options might be out their awaiting them either when they graduate from high school or, a few years later, after college.
The careers represented quite a wide array from law enforcement and land development to retail and professional services. In many cases, the companies represented were local branches of larger corporations. So if what I wrote above is true, how is it possible that so many of the exhibitors were there representing companies with a regional or national footprint?
At the end of the day, I think the answer still lies with people. Managers at local branches of these national and regional companies still have a personal connection to the communities they serve and, so long as it doesn’t put a big dent in the bottom line, they are willing to sacrifice their resources to help their local schools. And, even more likely, an event like a career fair costs time, but it doesn’t require writing a check. None of the companies at the career fair had to pay money to host an exhibit table.
Booster clubs struggle to provide additional resources for the groups they support because they are forced to go out into the community and ask for cash. It’s what they need. Schools can ask for time and professional expertise. And, sure, time costs money, but it doesn’t hit the bottom line the way writing a check does.
So, back to the original question: how do you convince business people to get involved in their local schools? I think, first of all, you have to admit not every business is going to want to be involved. If you’re a school person seeking support, you’re better off looking for those companies who do have an interest in civic engagement. And, even more to the point, they must seek out companies who have managers or owners with a personal proclivity toward civic involvement.
Those companies are much more likely to say yes when you ask them to host an exhibit at the career fair or send someone to the school to speak to a class or spend an hour reading to students at an elementary school.
Gone are the days – and we mourn their loss – when the school was truly the center of the community. For some, it still is. But for many, schools are just one more bird chirping for attention in a great big forest filled with other birds.