Giving Back is the New Black
In the last post on The Thread, we looked into B Corps using business as a force for good. Since businesses have more resources and human power than individual people, their potential impact on the world is almost always greater. We hope that the impact will be positive and not negative. More than ever, businesses and organizations are in the public eye and understand that their customers are demanding increased corporate social responsibility. Part of corporate social responsibility is maintaining a business that is a good steward of its resources, employees, and any influence it has in its community and industry.
Business leaders have a variety of ways to contribute to social responsibility efforts. Many are universal, while some industries have specific ways they make the world a better place. All businesses and organizations strategize for finances and growth. Not all of them consider their impact on young professionals, and how those professionals can continue their business’ success and missions. Giving back to the next generation, which I define as students and young professionals, can have compounding positive effects on communities and the businesses within them.
A common and effective way to immediately give back to a student or young professional is providing internship and apprenticeship opportunities. If you are in your business’s leadership or hiring team, consider creating a program focused on developing young workers. This approach often has the most tangible positive results, since the student receives job experience, and the business gets tasks completed and work done. As opposed to many entry level jobs, internships are often structured around training and learning. The time and resources invested in training an intern or apprentice are often not wasted.
Even if the intern does not continue to work for the business after their internship ends, the business now has a spokesperson out in the world that will hopefully promote them to their networks. Additionally, an intern may be forever grateful for knowledge and guidance received during an internship. Either way, in a lot of cases, a lot of business loyalty and positive effects can be a result of internships.
A fun opportunity that I have been involved with recently is mock interviews. These informal interviews are usually hosted by a university or career services office as a way to get students and professionals exposed to the job interview process. These can be industry specific but are not always. Providing mock interviews is a small time investment but can give a student or young professional the confidence and guidance they need to land their first big job. Despite being a mock interview, students may still be nervous. So, it’s up to you as a business leader to assure them of the qualities they possess while being honest about what you see that could improve. Many job opportunities are relationship based, so students who are able to be open and connect more with a potential employer may have a better chance of getting the job.
It is really refreshing to interact with students and young professionals who are embarking on their career. They are often full of hope and excitement and ask insightful questions about career strategy. Along these same lines, career services offices may need help reviewing resumes. This could also be a small time investment but have major impacts on helping individuals get noticed in the job market and land the positions they are seeking.
We all remember the rows and rows of booths at our first career fair. It may have been overwhelming to approach potential employers and shakily hand over a resume. But without that first step, many of us may have had a different career path. No matter how you landed your first job after high school or college, you had to take a step to apply or interview or ask your network for referrals. What is great about career fairs and similar hiring events is that you can reach a lot of people looking for employment at once. I have seen major employers catch the attention of potential employees by providing help with career fair preparation. Examples could be print shops offering free quality resume printing a few days prior to a hiring event. Companies can also order notepads, pens, portfolios, with their logo and hand those out at or before the hiring event to establish brand recognition.
Students and young professionals may lack business attire, transportation, access to the latest technology and other factors that could impact their ability to seek out the job they want. Businesses have the power to influence all of these needs in their local communities.
Industry Specific Tips & Tricks
Along those same lines, businesses can focus on a group of students who are studying in areas that match up with their industry. For example, a general contractor can provide lunch’n’learns or industry days at a local high school, trade school, or college construction department. Similarly, and I.T. company may attend school orientation events to encourage students to sign up for computer science classes. This is a long term investment and builds brand recognition among students that are more likely to seek employment with your business, since your industry matches their interests.
Having a mentor is so valuable throughout anyone’s career. A mentor can help you avoid mistakes, while also pushing you to reach your full potential. Business and organization leaders can provide valuable advice and guidance to students and young professionals via mentor relationships. Because mentoring is usually focused on one individual, the potential for making a positive impact in his or her life is astounding. Many students and young professionals would benefit greatly from a responsible mentor who can provide sound guidance in addition to the other influences in the student’s life (i.e. teachers, parents, friends, etc.).
As many of us continue to pay on our student loan debt, we understand that the value of a scholarship goes far beyond the actual dollar amount. With a scholarship, a student is relieved of a portion of the financial obligations of pursuing higher education and can focus on learning. I have seen businesses and organizations give students scholarships from a few hundred dollars to a full ride. Imagine the positive impact you can make by providing a student a scholarship. Your business might just make it possible for him or her to receive a higher education.
Sponsoring Events or Clubs
Have you been on a board or committee and lacked certain resources? I believe that is a common occurrence. School boards, local sports teams, advocacy groups, etc. are not known to be flush with cash. This is where businesses and organizations come in. Business leaders, executives and employees, are usually tuned into their local community needs whether that is through schools, sports, and other organizations. When a lack of funds or resources comes up, business leaders should find a way towards a solution. That could be providing employee volunteer hours, starting a fundraiser, or sponsoring an event or organization that needs a few hundred or a few thousand dollars. What may seem like a small dollar amount can make a huge difference in the success of a local organization. The business can also receive positive marketing and greater ties to the local community through sponsorship.
Looking Forward to the Next Generation
Today’s young people continue to astonish me with their abilities in technology, grassroots organizing, and entrepreneurship. I started my career less than a decade ago, so the thoughts of scholarships and internships are fresh in my memory. I plan to make as much positive impact with students and young professionals as I can until retirement, and maybe then some!
As I write this, I am hoping that this article will stand the test of time. The processes of contributing may change with technology, but this list of contributions will, with any luck, continue to occur and make positive change. These efforts can improve the lives of young people and their families while continuing the mission of businesses and organizations.