Each spring multiple businesses in downtown Birmingham, Mich., open their doors to sixth-grade students from the Birmingham School District for a two-day period. During that time, the 12-year-olds visit an array of businesses to gain insight into potential future careers.
Each business agrees to provide the students with a tour of their facility, talk to them about what their company does and the types of employees the company hires to work for them. The annual workforce development program for sixth-graders is coordinated by the Birmingham Public School District.
One company that has participated in the program is MainStreet Design Build, a design/build firm with offices in downtown Birmingham. The company first participated in the program in May 2012, and plans to participate again this spring. Christine Ramaekers, vice president of the company, was notified about the program by the Birmingham Principle Shopping District (PSD), the area Chamber of Commerce and through the Birmingham Public Schools, which her children attend.
“We threw our name in the hat pretty quickly because we knew it would be a fun thing to be involved in,” Ramaekers says. “What company doesn’t want a 12-year-old going home and saying, ‘Hey, I visited Mainstreet Design Build today. They have a really cool office, and they were really nice to me.’”
During the last workforce development days that MainStreet Design Build participated in, Ramaekers estimates that 15 groups of up to 12 students toured her facility and met with the production department, the design department and the administrative staff. During each tour, Ramaekers introduced the students to staff members in each department, who then took the time to introduce themselves, provide a brief overview of their jobs and note their educational background for that particular field.
“You give them a quick synopsis of what the employee did to get to that point in their career,” Ramaekers says.
Each tour ended with a question-and-answer session for each group of students. Then, while students enjoyed a snack, they filled out a form provided by a teacher at their school, which requested information about their visit to the business and the tour. Students then turned in the forms to the school at the end of their tours. All students left MainStreet Design Build with pencils or notepads.
Ramaekers estimated that each group only stayed about 15 minutes because they had to tour multiple facilities each day, but she believes that the event was worthwhile to the students. She explained that in middle school, students are starting to see larger amounts of homework, including more math and more detailed writing assignments. Workforce development programs help them connect what they’re doing in school with a potential future career.
“Not a lot of people go to college saying I want to be a kitchen designer or a project manager of a construction company—that’s a pretty detailed thing,” she says. “But [through a workforce development program], you can actually see a job in action and see that these are professional people using their education to have a job that they love.
“So if you can keep them interested through middle school to get them into high school—because high school is where it really starts to become so critical— they start to see a light at the end of the tunnel, on what am I going to be able to use this for,” Ramaekers says.
Helping kids gain insight into future jobs did not take much effort for the company. Ramaekers explained that after the school district confirmed the company was on the list of businesses to visit, she just provided an information sheet about MainStreet Design Build and a map to their business. At the office, the staff then prepared their brief speeches. On the designated days, she estimates it took her 45 minutes each morning to set up refreshments for the kids and prepare for the day.
“You really had to provide the school with very little information,” she says. “We just knew that for that two-day period our staff was going to be completely interrupted all day. So we didn’t plan any client meetings in the office or any staff meetings, or anything like that.”
Though the particular workforce development program that MainStreet Design Build participates in is geared specifically toward middle school kids, she recommends companies look into such programs to help garner interest in the remodeling industry. Workforce development programs can be geared toward high school or college students or toward adults interested in switching careers.
“If you’re in a pretty community-oriented area, I’d say getting involved in the schools and having the schools know you’re there to back them and that they can call on you for different things is really important because that’s the next generation that’s going to be doing what you do—and it’s you’re your clientele right there,” she says.—Amalia Deligiannis