MARION — Businesses can do more to partner with educators and students to further develop the next generation’s workforce, Marion Economic Development Corporation President Nick Glew said Wednesday at the group’s 31st annual luncheon.
Glew asked nearly 400 representatives of local businesses to consider the ways they can work with local schools.
“The business community has really embraced the idea that education is more than just writing a check,” Glew said. “Here in Iowa, as education funding continues to be a political hot potato, it is time for all of us to really understand the roles we can play in preparing the next generation of talent.”
The luncheon’s keynote speaker, Sandy Henshaw, executive director of Kansas City-based Northland CAPS, talked about the impact her organization has had on her region’s business climate.
Northland CAPS works with high school juniors and seniors in seven school districts in Missouri, partnering them with local businesses to gain real-life experience. The program also identifies economic needs and works to solve them. For example, it offers courses in advanced manufacturing and engineering and design and digital media and design, two popular fields in the Kansas City area.
“Working with your local schools is not just about donating money, although I’m sure they would take your money,” Henshaw said. “But there are many ways to partner with education that doesn’t involve writing a check.”
The businesses that work with Northland CAPS provide guest speakers, monetary assistance, classroom space, use of equipment and projects for students to do. This way, high school students explore various career paths and local businesses connect with the emerging workforce.
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“We’re just trying to plant seeds here today about how business and education can work collaboratively to drive long-term community success,” Glew said. He added that hosting high school interns is an easy first step to equip tomorrow’s workforce.
These relationships between schools and businesses aren’t necessarily unique. Iowa BIG, a collaboration between the Cedar Rapids Community School District and The Gazette Company, allows students to work on projects that meet the needs of businesses, non-profits and government agencies.
Also Wednesday, for the second year in a row, MEDCO awarded its Innovator of the Year Award. This year, it went to Involta, a Cedar Rapids IT company that nearly doubled in size last year after acquiring assets in Youngstown, Ohio.