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5 ways local businesses are benefiting from Real World Learning

August 31, 2021 | Updated: October 21, 2021

Real World Learning provides valuable experiences not only for students, but also for business partners. Professionals from JE Dunn, CommunityAmerican Credit Union, Diagnostic Imaging, South KC Chamber, and Webco Manufacturing share how their business benefited from working with high school students.

CommunityAmerica sees RWL as an investment in their company’s future

Anita Newton

When people ask Anita Newton why she spends so much time working with students, her answer is simple: you can’t afford not to.

“There’s 70 million Generation Z people living in America,” said Newton. “Their habits, attitudes, how they consume media and the way they interact with brands is fundamentally different than millennials or any other generation.”

As the Chief Innovation Officer for CommunityAmerica Credit Union (CACU), Newton is focused on creating products and services for young people. RWL provides a critical opportunity to not only better understand an important demographic, but also strengthen our future workforce.

CACU has worked with a range of school districts — urban, rural, and suburban schools, and regularly hosts a 15-to-20-person summer internship program. When the pandemic hit, they knew that the summer of 2020 would be different, so they pivoted to host a large-scale virtual internship program.

The Innovation Lab initially planned to host 50 interns. When 500 high school and college students applied, they decided to expand the opportunity, and hired 357 students.

CACU has also worked on smaller scale client-connected projects with high school students. During the 2021 spring semester they collaborated with students from Kansas City Public Schools to create a life skills seminar for teens.  Students developed a series of webinars with community experts on topics like managing your money and how to have financial success after high school.

“If you’re an employer and you want new employees to enter your workforce and be future leaders, you need to understand how they interact,” Newton said. “(Working with students) is a great way to build that relationship earlier versus waiting 10 or 15 years down the road.”

South KC Chamber sees partnership with Ruskin H.S. students as a great resource

Vickie Wolgast

For Vickie Wolgast, Real World Learning means a great way to tackle something on her to-do list.

Wolgast, who is the executive director of South Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, says that for years she has wanted to provide opportunities for local students, but didn’t think the chamber’s small office could support an internship.

Working with the Kauffman Foundation, she realized that their annual community book and member directory highlighting area businesses would be an ideal client-connected project for Ruskin High School’s journalism class.

“We met with the students via Zoom, talked a little bit about the project and then kind of turned it over to the instructor to assign different pieces to the students,” said Wolgast.

From there, students took photos, wrote the content, and saved the chamber a lot of time.

“It’s a great opportunity to help students experience careers without a lot of time commitment.” said Wolgast. “And it’s a great resource for companies to take advantage of, especially smaller companies that have projects that students can do.”