How can today’s students stand out from their peers when it comes to preparing for their futures? The most popular answers that come to mind are getting good grades, taking advanced placement or dual-enrollment courses, and participating in clubs or volunteering after school. But there’s another important experience that provides a boost in the real world: ensuring that high school students secure and successfully complete a paid internship before high school graduation.

A critical step to achieving this milestone for students is gaining both business and community buy-in. Quality internships are often hard to come by, but making the investment has the power to pay dividends. Not only do these opportunities prepare the next generation of talent and provide students with the employability skills to fill the jobs of tomorrow, but they allow businesses to remain competitive in today’s rapidly changing economy. As a result, communities are lifted and have a direct pipeline of local talent at their fingertips. It’s truly a win-win for all parties involved.

NAF is a national network of education, business, and community leaders who work together to ensure high school students are college, career, and future ready. It has been at the forefront of advocating for paid internships. NAF academies have been matching qualified, diverse interns with businesses in a variety of industries for nearly 40 years.

From the major science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, such as information technology, engineering, and health sciences, to the fast-paced worlds of finance and hospitality, interns can help businesses succeed — today and years into the future — with their fresh ideas and native understanding of technological advancements.

Transform learning

Through ongoing experiences, NAF has seen interns help improve systems at corporations and develop efficient solutions for everyday situations — such as saving time commuting or reducing lunch lines in the company’s cafeteria by offering easier payment options.

The ability to work with high schools in personalized ways transforms learning environments so that they ensure students are ready to enter the workforce and make valuable contributions. Through STEM-infused, industry-specific curricula and work-based learning experiences, including internships, high school students can connect their experiences inside and outside the classroom to their future career options. This will help them to make better decisions that will create a sustainable path in life.

With last year’s bipartisan reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act came some critical changes. Now, with more support around preparing students and a hyperfocus on STEM, educators also will be able to provide key resources for students who need it the most: those who lack access and often slip through the cracks.

There must be a continuous call on corporate America and our employer partners to play an active role in shaping the next generation of talent who will be entering the workforce in just a few years. The increased focus on work-based learning will help provide exposure for more of our young people and prime them for success.

Internships yield results

Paid internships for high school students provide experiences that allow young people to sharpen their skills, feel supported, and increase their confidence. They also are learning more about what it takes to thrive in today’s global marketplace as they begin to build their own professional network.

This is especially effective when seasoned business professionals give of their time and experience by guest speaking in classrooms, hosting worksite tours, participating in mock interviews, and more.

Industry-led initiatives have made monumental strides in connecting business with high school students. World Wide Technology (WWT) is one example of industry breaking down the barriers to access and opportunity by taking the reins and partnering with NAF to work with schools and invest directly in paid internships. This global technology service provider worked with Missouri’s Jennings School District, located in an economically depressed part of St. Louis County.

To date, nearly 135 students in St. Louis County participated in internships through the support of leaders such as WWT. These opportunities help to level the playing field for young people enrolled in a NAF academy, and enable those who need it the most to see themselves in a job they can be proud of.

Through these experiences, students have an opportunity to develop their skill sets and contribute meaningful work, while being in a corporate setting that allows them to better understand their career choices and be compensated for their efforts.

WWT also signed on as a NAFTrack Certified Hiring partner in May 2018. It committed to continuing to support NAF students as they graduate high school and go on to college and a career.

Some other examples of corporations that place high school students into both traditional internships, as well as group-based experiences, include SAP, Verizon, Capital One, Lenovo, KPMG, and Marriott International.

A brighter place

School districts, communities, corporations, and local businesses are positively contributing to the success of our nation’s workforce, while breaking down the barriers to opportunity for students. NAF is the key ingredient to help schools and districts provide these opportunities to students.

Ultimately, these efforts are allowing our world to be a better and brighter place for all students. School board leaders have the opportunity to amplify the leaders and innovators who are sitting in their district classrooms at this very moment. We need your continued support and commitment to impact thousands more young people across the nation.

Tiffany Barfield (tbarfield@naf.org) is senior director of policy and advocacy at NAF.

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