Utah Business Staff

August 1, 2012

Transitioning now to business partnerships—because I work more directly with Weber State and the applied technology college and others in northern Utah, I see the incredible partnerships that they have with businesses. Our team at the Ogden Weber Applied Technology College looks at their students as a product, sees the businesses as their customers and work with the businesses directly to see their needs and fulfill them.

The reality is this is a business partnership and they reach out on a regular basis, not just on symposiums or forums, but they communicate on a regular basis to assess those needs and to work directly with them.

More than 25 years ago, our chamber created Partners in Education. This is a program where we try to motivate businesses to collaborate with schools, and a lot of this is in the elementary and secondary schools. Now, in Weber County, we have over 200 documented partnerships. For example, America First Credit Union has a program that basically touches almost every school. Our friends from Garff, their program was high school, then it’s junior high and now it’s reaching into the elementary schools, focusing on reading competency and reading programs.

These are great big programs. Golden West does a program every year and they produce about $45,000; Boneville High gets some of it, the junior highs get some of it and the elementaries get some of it.

Two years ago we honored Questar. In the Weber County area, they provided a specific number of hours per week that their associates could go and volunteer in schools. They picked and adopted a school that was a very difficult school. These employees reached out on a weekly basis, reading with the students, helping them with math and science in the classroom, making it happen.

Last year we honored an individual who had retired because of a disability. But for the last 30 years, he has adopted a school and he went there every day. He lost his legs a few years ago. That did not slow him down. He then went in a wheelchair. And he finally had to retire at 80 plus years old from his partnership with that school. 

So when you look at that variety of partnerships, we are engaging all of the chambers in the state, all of the schools and businesses. Salt Lake Community College has written a program that’s in its pilot stage, but it’s available to look at where, as a business leader, I can go on that and pinpoint the area I want to help along with what can I do, and I post my profile on that website. A school principal goes onto that website, finds that profile and then makes direct contact, and they create a partnership. We’ve never had this kind of a tool before that we can really engage both the education side and the business side.

We find in the chamber that businesses want to give back. They want to support the community—everything from buying electronic whiteboards to supplying computers. It doesn’t make any difference what they do—they are engaged. We have a company that is an excavation company, and on many occasions have gone out and redone a play yard. They go in and completely re scrape it and do all the things that it would take hundreds of man hours to do, and they can do it in two or three afternoons.

So it doesn’t matter what those partnerships are. They all benefit the students and they help them learn.

Any final thoughts?
MERCIER: We’re talking about 2020 and making sure that we’re ready for jobs of the future, but there are a lot of jobs available right now that we are not meeting the needs of. Our business partnerships are critically important at all levels so that we can look at making changes today, not just what we are planning to do that may take resources. What can we do today to try and align what we are doing in our educational programs with needs that exist today?

If we don’t do a better job of reaching out and across those chasms, our companies are not going to be able to grow into those jobs of the future. So we really need to look at how we become more responsive right now and how we start making some of those changes right away because there are a lot of good jobs out there right now that we are not adequately meeting the needs of.

JENKINS: In listening to this discussion, my concern is that someone listening in—a fly on the wall—would think that as we talk about these high-wage jobs, we are ignoring or perhaps even discrediting a major portion of our students, those in humanities and some of these other areas. I don’t put this on the fault of business, but there is this collaboration that has to take place with our colleges that traditionally we have not looked at graduating students into these high-wage jobs.

In our college of humanities, our dean has been engaged in some strategic planning with our humanities graduates to get them into these jobs that are available now, some of these very high-wage jobs, but sometimes we overlook the talents that they have.

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