I’ve been spending a lot of time over the past few months focused on the challenge of introducing work-based learning in rural sites. It’s a difficult issue for a lot of schools: How do you connect students to employers when there are so few businesses in your area?
There are, fortunately, a few strategies that can help. Consider the following:
When there are only a handful of businesses available to you, you need to start thinking about different ways in which you can connect students. A student who wants to do marketing might not be able to find a standalone marketing or digital advertising agency, but every company needs marketing; you just have to find one that will give your students a chance. The oil change place might allow a student to handle their social media marketing work or do a branding redesign, for example. Your IT student might be able to help a business – any local business – create an app, strengthen security, or review their current use of technology and make recommendations for cost savings or productivity enhancements.
There are resources available, such as (but certainly not limited to) Nepris, that allow you to connect to employers virtually. In addition, thanks to tools such as Zoom (and others), if you have connections in other areas, you can set up videoconference calls between employers and students. I’ve talked with several educators who tapped into their college networks as well as networks from professional industries to give their students a chance to talk with employers in various businesses within their fields.
Look to the school or district
In many counties, particularly rural counties, the school district is the largest employer in the area, and it manages all of the functions of any other big business. While it might involve some budget allocations for the time district employees spend with students, don’t overlook the resources within your own organization as you look for opportunities for students.
Build your own
School-based enterprises, in which students start up a business that serves the local communities, are an excellent solution to the rural challenge. Students gain real-world business experience, not only in terms of the technical skills involved, but also in the entrepreneurial skills that employers find so attractive. The community also gains a new resource, as the businesses are typically tailored to meeting local needs, which builds a stronger connection between the school and its community.
Hopefully those ideas will help you overcome the challenges of work-based learning in rural areas!
Brett Pawlowski is Executive Vice President of NC3T, the National Center for College and Career Transitions (www.nc3t.com). NC3T provides planning, coaching, technical assistance and tools to help community-based leadership teams plan and implement their college-career pathway systems and strengthen employer connections with education.