Corporate partnerships have been alive and well in high schools across America for decades. But a looming labor shortage and a growing urgency to address Minnesota's unyielding racial achievement gap, is prompting changes in how businesses participate in hands-on learning.
The race is on to help students more quickly figure out their interests and aptitudes and then get them trained.
"It's our imperative to help students understand what 21st century workplace skills are," said Kathy Funston, who recruits business partners for Burnsville High School's Pathways program. "We're able to take your mom and dad's vocational education class and turn it into a highly skilled pre-engineering program."
The focus is no longer just on students who might be better suited to community college and the trades. Across the state, corporations are donating thousands of dollars and their employees' time to teach students how to do such things as draw architectural plans, make replacement parts with 3-D printers, write computer code and create marketing campaigns.
Companies such as Polaris, Medtronic and Ergotron are helping to develop curricula at Wayzata High School and are working side-by-side with juniors and seniors through the school's Compass program.
In northwestern Minnesota, businesses aligned with the Minnesota Innovation Institute have trained more than 40 students at Bemidji High School in mechanical fabrication, basic hydraulics and certified production technology to address the manufacturing skills gap.
The Burnsville school district is embarking on one of the state's more comprehensive efforts to prepare its students for the work world.
More than 200 businesses are involved in a career-readiness program at the high school, which used a $65 million voter-approved referendum in 2015 and an annual technology levy of $2.5 million to blow up the traditional learning model and begin working with students as early as the ninth grade on career interests.
"If you don't get students involved when they're younger, if you don't allow them to explore the things that interest them, you snuff that candle out early on," said Ryan Moffitt, director of service training at Walser Auto Group, whose foundation has given $275,000 to Burnsville High to upgrade the school with the same equipment used by dealerships.
"We're trying to provide foundational knowledge while at the same time provide real-world experience," Moffitt said. "Students who show potential can very quickly make decisions about whether they want to make a career out of some type of automotive path."
The auto shop has eight welding machines, a body shop and painting station. Faculty and district employees can bring in their vehicles for repair by students at $40 an hour. Some of the money is reinvested in the program and helps students buy their own tools.
Eventually, the school aims to expand the program beyond engine repair to give students experience working on the sales floor as well as in back-office operations such as finance and accounting.
The new fabrication workshop is at the center of the school, serving as a hub of high-tech activity where "clean technology" has replaced the grittier shop classes of yore.
"We want to attract females and people of color into fields that were traditionally male-oriented," Funston said. "We want to make sure they have opportunities and access."
Best Buy sends a Geek Squad agent to the school library several times a week to run a help desk and repair service for school computers. Members of the Geek Squad mentor students in the "soft skills" of customer service while also coaching them on laptop repair.
Students take an online skills assessment and can select one of four career fields -- business management and entrepreneurship; arts and global communications; health sciences; and design, engineering and manufacturing technologies. More than just subject matter, the courses also promote teamwork, interpersonal communication and other problem-solving skills.
SundayMonday Business on 12/03/2017
Print Headline: Firms take hands-on training to school