Many small business owners realise that being active in their local community is a great idea. It builds brand recognition in your local community, and is good for your reputation, showing that the business is socially responsible. From a commercial point of view, if your business applies for contracts with bigger organisations or public sector organisations, engagement with your local community may be a factor in winning those contracts, particularly public sector ones.
Engagement with schools in the area is one way to get involved in the local community, and it can have specific benefits.
School engagement can help your own recruitment, and can be especially useful if you run an apprenticeship programme; building links with local schools and colleges can really assist with recruitment of apprentices.
Your diversity and inclusion can be improved by altering your own workforce demographic. Time spent with local schools can result in more applications from minority ethnic groups, from girls, or from whichever demographic you are lacking. Mirroring your workforce to your local customer base is important to your bottom line and engagement with schools can help achieve that.
It can help your own staff retention, if employees have a rewarding opportunity to mentor local young people it will help employee engagement, and as a result, employee performance.
But what sort of thing can you do as an employer? Here are some ideas for good school engagement.
Many schools welcome the opportunity to have outside speakers talk to their students about career options. This might be part of an organised careers day, perhaps aimed at older students, or on an ad hoc basis.
You could also provide up to date careers information to be given to students, and raise the profile of careers in your sector.
Work experience opportunities
Many schools operate work experience programmes where students are expected to spend some time working at a local employer. Actively providing opportunities for students to do this can be really helpful, in circumstances where finding placements can be really challenging.
Outside the option to discuss career options, students of all ages may find an informative talk about what your organisation actually does to be really interesting. Obviously some sectors are more objectively ‘exciting’ than others, but when your life is mainly compromised of home and school, an insight into a wider world can be intriguing regardless of whether the visiting speaker makes widgets or pilots space rockets.
Provide curriculum materials
This is something to be cautious about, obviously not being specialist educators, but, working closely with teaching staff, it can be really worthwhile and helpful to schools if a local business can provide certain materials or information in support of the curriculum, either physical materials or specific talks or support activities.
Some businesses are more suitable than others, but a class trip to a local business can really add value for students, and bring the curriculum to life with a tour around the premises and an opportunity to see the business ‘in action’.
Schools are always strapped for cash, but this is a problem that seems to be getting worse. As part of your engagement activities, you could sponsor specific one-off or annual activities, fund a specific need such as a new library or set of books, equip a class with iPads, or could simply make a donation.
Talking to the school about what they need is a first step – donating something specific that won’t get used is money wasted, whereas by talking to them you may find they are desperately in need of specific sports equipment or musical instruments.
Headteachers are busy people, but by getting in touch with the school, you may be able to build a partnership with the appropriate staff member. That will help you find out what support you can best offer, as well as discussing what the aims of your business are, to ensure that everyone benefits.
If you would like any further advice on how your business can support your local school, do get in touch.