Area businesses are stakeholders – and can be valuable partners – in public education.

Business partnerships are an important thread in the fabric of schools and communities, and can help your district and its students in many ways.

Businesses can be a source of career guidance, apprenticeship, internship or part-time job opportunities for your students. Businesses can provide successful role models that students can identify with. They can provide monetary or in-kind donations to a district or to your district’s education foundation. They can help increase awareness within the district of workforce needs of businesses. They also can be vocal school district boosters and supporters.

It’s a win-win for the businesses as well. Partnerships with schools enhance the visibility and credibility of a business. Larger companies know the long-term benefit of building a pipeline of future employees. For many local business officials, there is also a great deal of personal satisfaction that comes with helping students.

The Mercer County Technical School District currently has partnerships with about 150 businesses and has found them to be helpful to both the students and the district as a whole. For example, one local auto dealership not only participates in apprenticeship-type programs for auto mechanic students, it also helps run a fundraiser that has earned more than $18,000 for the district.

Most recently, Katie Silver, a recruiter from Wegmans of Princeton, visited Mercer County Technical Schools’ Arthur R. Sypek Center and presented techniques to help students prepare for job interviews. She discussed the importance of professional dress, of being on time and the best way to answer questions to land a job. The Wegmans partnership is mutally beneficial, as the retailer often hires the Mercer County Technical School students, some of whom have been employed there for more than 10 years.

If your school district wants to build or bolster its partnerships with local businesses, there are some simple things your district can do without investing a lot of time or money.

Reach Out to the Community

For starters, it’s a good idea to increase the distribution of your print and electronic newsletters, school newspapers, and other publications you already distribute by including local businesses. Create a mailing list or email distribution list with the local businesses that support your schools and those that you and your staff patronize on a regular basis. Think of local trophy shops, pizza places, sporting goods stores and print/copy shops, as well as other neighborhood businesses. This is a simple way to communicate what is happening in your schools. Your local small businesses will appreciate the extra measure.

If you have large corporations in your community, they will value this because their employees most likely have children in your schools. Large employers work hard to retain their employees, so being able to promote the local school district is a huge plus. As you plan that next big theater production, fundraiser or community service event, consider ways that local businesses may support you. It’s quite possible that by doing so, you may end up with a surprise donation or ticket purchases!

It can be helpful to have someone from your school district attend local Chamber of Commerce or business association functions. That can build a two-way relationship between schools and local companies.

Volunteer Opportunities for Business Partners

Having a hard time finding parent volunteers for your school? Consider promoting in-school volunteer opportunities with your business partners. This is an easy way to increase engagement with your local businesses.

Volunteer opportunities should be 60 minutes or less and there shouldn’t be any long-term commitments associated. Districts should also make the scheduling process very simple by sending an email with a link to RSVP, or provide a direct phone number to reduce any confusion for the volunteer. People become easily frustrated when the process isn’t simplified, so don’t lose potential volunteers by sending them to a switchboard or a voice mailbox that nobody listens to.

If your teachers are involved with recruiting and scheduling volunteers, you’ll be more likely to increase participation. For example, a local nutritionist agrees to visit a middle-school health class to discuss the importance of a balanced diet. The health teacher schedules the date and time directly with the speaker and coordinates any audio-visual needs, handouts or other details related to the presentation. This teacher would also be in charge of informing the main office when the volunteer is expected to arrive. Ideally, the teacher would be waiting (or you can have a student waiting) to greet the guest. Many people haven’t been in a school since they were students themselves, so arranging for someone to greet the volunteer will put them at ease.

Always remember to acknowledge your volunteers with a thank-you note from the teacher and students. This will likely ensure a repeat visit the following year or even better, additional visits during the same school year.

Do you host an annual event that requires a lot of volunteers? Business partners enjoy getting involved with grade-level or school events like Career Days or guest reader days. These are usually the best way to cultivate a volunteer because most people are familiar with these types of events and there is less of an expectation that the volunteer will deliver a customized presentation. In fact, you can probably score a corporate partner to help you recruit volunteers. They can promote the event internally and help with sign-ups as well. Most companies encourage employees to get involved with community service activities, so this one has the potential to be a huge win.

Local Advisory Committees

Want to take things to the next level? Develop an advisory committee made up of local business partners.

An advisory committee can provide guidance and assistance to the teachers and administrators on specific programs or other district-related issues. Just as with a parent advisory group, local businesses like to weigh in on what’s happening in your district. Business advisory groups can meet three or four times per school year under the leadership of a school district administrator. If given the task today, you can probably think of five to 10 medium-to-large businesses that would participate in a heartbeat.

If you need help identifying local businesses, consider reaching out to your local Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, or one of the New Jersey Talent Network Directors. Most of the groups have education subcommittees or a mandate to get involved with the local school district, but don’t know how to navigate a local school district.

Businesses value this type of involvement because it adds credibility to the community where they do business.

These simple, easy-to-implement strategies for outreach can help get your district started toward building a strong and fruitful relationship with local companies. Such programs can yield rewards for your teachers and administrators. But most importantly, your students (and their parents/guardians) will thank you for providing meaningful experiential learning activities and memories that will last a lifetime.

Lori Perlow is the District Communications Officer for Mercer County Technical Schools.