For business leaders, back to school season is an ideal time to consider partnering with a local school, whether you're talking about an elementary school, a nearby college, or a level in between. First of all, it's easier for school administrators to consider partnership initiatives at the beginning of the academic year.

Businesses that support schools give their employees a perfect outlet for volunteer work. Providing internships to local college or university students can create a valuable supply of future workers. Corporate social responsibility is crucial in positioning your company with customers and against competition. Whether that's grassroots or being an event sponsor

Winning over customers is never a bad thing, but schools and colleges are frequently able to give back to businesses in other ways as well. Accessing research and talent while further connecting with the community is as close to a win-win as you will find. 

Here are a few ideas you can execute right now to get started. 

1. Donate to drive school development or provide supplies.

Allocate a portion of your company's charitable giving to local schools. Keeping your donations local allows you to see the impact you'll make firsthand. In addition, school communities will frequently make it a point to support businesses that help them operate.

In North Canton, Ohio, for instance, the Hoover Vacuum Company donates thousands of dollars to North Canton Hoover High School each year, and it recently helped the school create a TV studio. You may not be able to afford that but even small donations make a big difference. Extra office supplies that are cluttering up your supply room will help teachers in need who often have to pay for supplies out of pocket. 

That's a small gesture with a very big and real impact. 

2. Showcase student projects and lend your expertise.

There are numerous ways to work directly with students through your partnership. If you run a local cafe or restaurant, you could decorate your business's walls with student photography or art. Students will benefit from a valuable learning opportunity, and their parents and friends will love seeing someone they know featured.

Business owners and their employees can also make a big impression on students by lending their expertise. A local weather forecasting company might help students put together an innovative science experiment, or a small video production firm could help students learn how to shoot and edit video or even provide guest speakers for a college-level course on the subject.

The key is that these relationships can start small and grow. 

3. Ignite the passion of interns.

Internships are a great option for your partnership because they're excellent vehicles for achieving mutual benefit. Interns get the flexibility to make common mistakes without all the pressure that comes with a real-life job. They also make students more attractive candidates when it comes time to apply for those jobs, because companies prefer individuals with experience gained from working at an internship.

And that's obvious. Because I'll always want to hire the person with tangible experience doing something versus the person that tells me they can do it. 

Offering an internship through a local school or university establishes a direct hiring pipeline, and companies frequently hire former interns because they have a leg up on the competition. This can cut down on your talent and retention expenses. And as people, more and more, move from company to company, the expense of training and onboarding talent is a real consideration. 

4. Pursue redevelopment projects.

As they say, two heads are better than one. So find a nearby school or college and consider what you can do together to improve your community. 

In St. Louis, BJC Health Care partnered with Washington University School of Medicine to enhance the neighborhoods surrounding the hospital system's and medical school's campuses. Through the Washington University Medical Center Redevelopment Corporation, both entities have worked to improve security, establish housing options, and contribute to the economic revitalization of two nearby neighborhoods.

Businesses and schools have a lot to offer one another. Whether companies choose to recruit interns from a local college, contribute to community revitalization initiatives, or just want to donate some much-needed school supplies, these relationships help strengthen the ties between communities and the businesses that serve them. And remember, a partnership doesn't have to begin with a vast amount of resources. The beginning of the school year is the perfect time to start this conversation.

Published on: Oct 3, 2018
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