In my opinion: Involving business in schools benefits both sides
It is critical for Ireland and its drive to be a knowledge economy that young people have an understanding of the myriad of opportunities which exist for them and that they have a network they can utilise to find out the necessary information for any type of career.
A recent study from the ESRI has shown young people regret having left school early because they see their lack of qualifications as a barrier to employment.
The Schools' Business Partnership (SBP) programme was set up with the aim of assisting Government and the Department of Education & Science's strategy on educational inclusion and specifically in reducing the school drop-out rate.
It is a flagship initiative of Business in the Community Ireland, a non-profit organisation dedicated to corporate responsibility. The lead sponsor since 2001 has been Marks & Spencer Ireland. It is also supported by Cadbury Ireland & Cornmarket Group Financial Services. The Government matches the financial contribution of the participating businesses.
The benefits of engagement are significant for all stakeholders. Partnerships between education and business provide a context for students for their learning in class and can open their minds to the many career opportunities that exist for them.
Employees develop their interpersonal skills, add diversity to their work day, engage in their local community and enhance the image and reputation of their company. To date, 132 companies have joined; 158 schools targeted by the Department of Education & Science as part of its School Completion Programme have been matched with a business partner and 15,651 students around Ireland have benefited from the engagement. SBP has been acknowledged at EU conferences as a model of international best practice.
The programmes provided are: Student Mentoring, Skills @ Work, Management Excellence for Principals, Summer Work Placement Programme and Management Excellence for Teachers which is currently a pilot programme.
Sixty-two per cent of the country's principals took part in the Management Excellence for Principals' programme.
One student recounted in the 2009 evaluation: "When the employee came in and talked about himself in college I really felt like going to college after that. I liked the 'day in the life' because it showed us what they do day in day out." Another outlines: "It is a very useful way to learn how an organisation in our local community is run because we see the building as we walk past it every day but we didn't know what was going on in it."
An opportunity to mentor young students at a critical time in their lives is a very meaningful way of 'giving back'. This external voice is well received by students and it often reinforces what teachers and parents are already saying to our youth. Role models from the local community are effective in demonstrating to those most vulnerable and at risk of dropping out of school that achieving that dream in life is possible for anyone.
Teachers who are involved in coordinating the programmes also report significant benefits.
One guidance counsellor said the "programme had a clearly positive effect on our marginalised students. It developed their self-confidence and specifically resulted in a positive attitude to school and education. They found a desire to remain in school and pursue specific careers".