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Calculating the Costs of School-to-Work Involvement

May 1, 1997
Related Topics: Basic Skills Training, Workforce Planning, Featured Article
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School-to-work strategies are a long-term process. With no more than a small, immediate payoff toward the balance sheet, it can be difficult for the human resources department to justify the costs of starting a school-to-work program. Fortunately, although there's always a start-up cost for a new venture, getting involved in a local school-to-work program doesn't have to cost a fortune in either financial or human resources. For one, the School-to-Work Opportunities Act provides venture capital to get school-to-work partnerships off the ground or to expand those that have been started.

Secondly, direct costs of these programs for employers can be minimal, including just apprentices' wages, tools or equipment. But indirectly, time spent, of course, is money as well, especially for small firms. (And according to the Washington, D.C.-based National Alliance of Business, companies with fewer than 100 employees make up the bulk of employers providing youth apprenticeship opportunities.) HR managers give of their time when they sit on school-to-work planning committees, negotiating program details and policies. Technical workers may spend time advising classroom teachers on curricula, and front-line workers who may act as mentors for apprentices are spending time away from their primary job responsibilities.

Lynne Porter, coordinator of curriculum and instructional support for North Orange County Regional Occupation Center in Anaheim, California, recognizes the limits of time and resources some employers face. When recruiting business partners, she asks employers to identify their own "comfort level of involvement," perhaps as a mentor or as a speaker by offering worksite tours to students. She believes that when a person, on behalf of the company, sets his or her own level of involvement, he or she also is declaring that his or her involvement is valuable and meaningful to the employer.

Sheila Donath, a company vice president for New York City-based The Segal Co., asks her volunteers to commit to a minimum of only four hours a month to work with students. However, Donath and the tutors and mentors usually devote more time each month because they also organize group activities with the students like skating parties, museum visits and picnics. This year, 17 students are being mentored by Segal employees. Donath hopes to add a workshop for students who want to prepare for the SAT and would like to expand the tutoring program. Segal pays for incidental expenses associated with the program, and employee volunteers make up the work hours used to mentor or tutor students.

At the other end of the spectrum is Siemens AG, a German electrical and electronics systems supplier based in Munich. The corporation's U.S. operating companies (of which there are seven) spend an estimated $3 million to $4 million a year on school-to-work programs. One of its companies, Siemens Rolm Communications, for example, a private telecommunications supplier in Santa Clara, California, will have spent approximately $250,000 between May 1996 and the end of fiscal year 1997 to train 12 high school seniors in its new Field Technician Youth Internship Program. The program combines workplace learning two afternoons a week for students with paid summer internships and college study after graduation. Siemens will also pay for the students' college tuition and textbook costs. With the long European tradition of apprenticeships as example, Siemens recognizes that financial commitment to such school-to-work programs pays off down the road.

Workforce, May 1997, Vol. 76, No. 5, p. 30.

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