Making the Most of Community Partnerships
By Tom Frazier, Nicole Meyer and Maggie McCormick
Building partnerships with area businesses, agencies, and institutions has resulted in a multitude of benefits for the Bloomington Area Career Center in Bloomington, IL, as well as for the business partners.
Background – BACC by the Numbers
One of 24 area career centers in Illinois, the BACC serves 450 students from 16 high schools within a 40-mile radius. The center offers 13 programs of study, ranging from Fire Science to Culinary Arts, from industrial trades to medical professions. For many programs, students can earn dual college credit and/or industry-recognized certifications.
Success stories among their alumni include one who is completing a Physician’s Assistant degree, another who is the head technician for a BMW dealership, and a chef in California.
BACC leverages business partnerships to expand available resources and provide real-world experiences for the students. The nature of support from area businesses generally involves either program-specific or soft-skill training.
Program-specific support often comes in the form of guest speakers, on-site training, and hands-on experiences. For example, in cooperation with both the Bloomington and Normal Fire Departments, Fire Science students have access to facilities and equipment for training that could not be offered by BACC alone. This also allows them to add specialized training, such as hazardous materials and technical rescue.
Other programs provide students with realistic learning experiences as well as ways to contribute using their developing skills. Civil Engineering and Architecture students have designed layouts for a couple of restaurants, Construction Trades students work on Habitat for Humanity homes, and Nurse Assistant students practice skills through clinical rotations in local nursing homes or hospitals. Faculty for a new program starting in Fall 2015, Computer Maintenance Technology, hope to give students experience through providing IT support for local school districts. This would save money for each district as well.
Students report the real-world experiences help refine their career choices, as with the Health Careers student who has identified her preferred settings and patient populations. Upon graduation, some students are job-ready, able to immediately start their careers with experience and credentials. Others use their training as a launch pad for further education, going on to pursue careers in engineering, architecture, or nursing, to name a few.
Responding to a need for also developing soft skills, area employers began offering mock interviews to seniors and some juniors in 2011. The event has grown every year, with 217 students and 80 adult volunteers participating in 2015.
The interviews are conducted at State Farm, headquartered in Bloomington, taking place over a period of a week in March. While the majority of volunteers come from State Farm, other employers include Caterpillar, Inc. (headquartered in Peoria, about 30 miles away,) Kay Jewelers, OSF St. Joseph Medical Center, and local law enforcement agencies.
To prepare for the upcoming interviews, BACC counselors and teachers instruct students on resume writing, interviewing skills, and appropriate dress. During Mock Interview Week, each participating student is interviewed by 1 or 2 professionals and then given feedback on their interview, resume, and dress. Students report this event gives them interviewing experience in a more professional environment, and with more thought-provoking questions, than what they may have been exposed to before.
A few students talked with the authors about their mock interview experiences:
- Zach, an EMT-Basic student who wants to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps as a firefighter and EMT. Zach’s brother graduated in the first BACC Fire Science class.
- Domenica, a Culinary Arts student who plans to attend culinary school after graduating and eventually own her own bakery.
- Hannah, a Health Careers/CNA student who wants to go to nursing school and become a Labor & Delivery nurse.
- Taylor, a Criminal Justice student interested in Forensics.
Some common themes emerged from their discussion:
- They received feedback on what they did well and where they could improve. They found the feedback was not only helpful and practical, but was delivered in a sincere, sensitive, and professional manner.
- The more challenging questions for them were about describing their weaknesses or overcoming an obstacle.
- Those who had interviewed the previous year felt more prepared this year. They knew what sort of questions to expect, had a clearer understanding about appropriate dress, and believed they had improved from the previous year.
- They all feel much more confident about the prospect of interviewing in the future.
As observed by repeat interviewers and self-reported by students, there is noticeable improvement in the skills of those students returning for a second year of mock interviews. Whether interviewing for the first or second time, students found the event to be a valuable learning experience, one that “every student should take advantage of.”
Tips for Building Partnerships
Director Tom Frazier and Business & Community Coordinator Nicole Meyer offer tips for other institutions seeking to build community partnerships:
- Ask a variety of organizations. Many are interested and have something to offer.
- Persistence is essential, as is following up with friendly reminders and updates.
- Share the benefits for not just the students, but for the businesses themselves—improved exposure, previewing potential employees, helping ensure the school training is appropriate and relevant.
- Use multiple approaches – face-to-face meetings, phone calls, e-mail. Some businesses respond to different modes of communication better than others.
- Share your goal with all invested groups—students, teachers, businesses.
- Be enthusiastic—you are selling!
Tom Frazier is the Director/Principal of Bloomington Area Career Center in Bloomington, Illinois. He has been in this position for the past ten years. Prior to holding this position, he served as a high school Assistant Principal, and also taught Business classes for his first eleven years in education. Click here to learn more about the Bloomington Area Career Center or contact Tom at email@example.com
Nicole Meyer is the Business and Community Coordinator at the Bloomington Area Career Center in Bloomington IL. She previously worked at The Baby Fold as a Foster Care Caseworker, after earning her degree in Psychology at Illinois State University. Nicole has a passion for helping children and adolescents become successful adults, and accomplishing their goals. Click here to learn more about the Bloomington Area Career Center or contact Nicole at firstname.lastname@example.org
Maggie McCormick, M.A., L.P.C. is the owner of Career Seasons, providing workshop facilitation and career coaching in planning for career transitions and retirement lifestyles. Maggie endeavors to help others find their best fit at every stage of their careers, and believes in the importance of lifelong career development. She has a B.A. degree in Education and an M.A. degree in Counseling, both from Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, LA. Her work experience includes corporate leadership and employee development, university career and academic counseling, inpatient and outpatient mental health, juvenile corrections, and education. She can be reached at email@example.com. Learn more about Career Seasons at career-seasons.com.