With the conclusion of the school year officially behind us, countless students are at the beginning stages of a summer job or internship. These time-honored traditions not only serve to help young adults earn money and remain engaged throughout their time away from the classroom, they also provide valuable lessons and experiences that help prepare them for life in the professional sphere.
Whether learning customer service and workplace dynamics as a cashier or server at a local restaurant, or testing the waters of their chosen profession through an office internship, students grow and thrive immensely when they have the opportunity to enjoy hands-on learning.
This hands-on experience is critical to the successful launch of a career. Recent data shows that the majority of corporate recruiters share that finding applicants with practical experience is one of their biggest challenges in identifying talent. We live in a world where the tools and systems with which we work every day are evolving at a pace more rapid than any other time in our history thanks to advancements in technology. One of the key ways to keep up with this demand and demonstrate real world capabilities is by having our students roll up their sleeves and do real work in addition to their academic studies.
However, the value of utilizing the workplace for educational purposes does not need to be solely reserved for periods of time when students are enjoying a break from the classroom. Across the Pacific Northwest, there are countless examples of schools benefiting from partnerships that bring the business world to the classroom, allowing students to learn by doing all year.
For example, Junior Achievement helps inspire young minds by bringing real business experiences to schools throughout our state, across our region and around our country. Whether through their unique BizTown simulation, their Finance Park training program or any of their other many educational experiences, Junior Achievement helps business come to life in an engaging and educational manner.
At Gonzaga University, students have the unique opportunity to learn the intricacies of import/export commerce as well as retail distribution while serving a worthy cause through the Zambia Gold honey project. The business collaborates with farmers in Africa to import honey for sale in the U.S. Students are responsible for all phases of the business, from sourcing product directly from farmers in Zambia to shipping it to Spokane to marketing and distributing product online and through local retailers.
Students across Vancouver have the opportunity to gain hands-on training and career guidance through YouthFirst. The YouthFirst initiative, operated by Partners in Careers, offers a variety of resources to high school students and recent graduates, introducing them to a number of professional paths via classroom programs and one-on-one mentoring as well as helping participants secure internships.
Following high school graduation, this sort of hands-on training becomes even more valuable. For more than 80 years, countless local residents have jump-started their careers through the Professional and Technical programs offered at Clark College. Students receive training on the most up-to-date industry trends and techniques across a variety of fields, including automotive technology, culinary techniques and early childhood education.
Similarly, the Washington State University Vancouver campus offers several certification programs that prepare students for fulfilling careers through a combination of hands-on training and academic preparation. Students can gain real-world experience in professional sales, nursing, gerontology, early childhood education and even digital game study and design.
These are just a few examples of the myriad ways that businesses, working professionals and entrepreneurs can help inspire the next generation and set today’s youth up for success by sharing their knowledge and expertise, and establishing venues for students to practice a professional craft in the “real world.”
As the summer winds along, we are urging all of our local business, philanthropic and educational partners to join us in brainstorming and helping make happen the diverse and creative ways we can connect the next generation of students to hands-on and professional-learning opportunities.
Robert Knight is the president of Clark College, and Steve Moore is the executive director of the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust.