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School, business community forms partnership

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By Nick Longworth

Students looking to start a career or just apply for a summer job are now having the opportunities come to them thanks in part to a new program at Park Rapids Area High School. Through a partnership between the local business community and the high school, businesses are now able to schedule a time in which a representative can set up a table to promote openings during lunch periods.

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With the high school administration looking to promote opportunity to its student body, employers are looking to tap the fountain of youthful employees directly.

“How can the school and the business community partner to help kids get jobs, and how can we start building more of a relationship? I’ve got kids who need jobs, and I know the business community is looking for kids. So how can we bring the two together?” said Lance Bagstad, Superintendent of Park Rapids Area Schools.

“It’s a chance for businesses to sit down and meet with kids. We have students every year that are looking for jobs and we also have potentially a lot of businesses or industries that are looking for employees. Every year we’ve always had businesses call us and say we have openings. This year we just took it a step further, offering these businesses the opportunity to come in during lunch time and set up a table. It’s a win-win for them and our kids as well,” said Jeff Johnson, Principal for the Park Rapids High School.

The idea was originally formulated after Bagstad overheard students in the hallway talking about looking around for summertime work.

“Lance would hear from students that they couldn’t find anywhere to work, and I would hear from business members that they would have trouble finding help,” said executive director for the Park Rapids Chamber of Commerce Nicole Lalum. “We thought about doing a job fair and other things, but we thought that this kind of program lends itself more to flexibility for the businesses and students.”

“At one of the Progress Park Rapids committee meetings we discussed trying to build a relationship and a connection between the businesses and the schools. We talked about how can they help us and how can we help them,” Johnson said.

“In the past we’ve always had a blurb in the announcements about any opportunity, but now we’ll take it a step further and have sit-down conversations. It doesn’t hurt to try,” Bagsatd said.

Interested businesses, with no restriction as to industry at the moment, are now are able to solicit interested students and speak to them directly about opportunities available and positions they are looking to fill.

“As long as we know that they’re coming, we can advertise it. I don’t think it’s been a mad rush (of businesses), but I can see it as we build this. We’re working together and trying to build that partnership between the school, our business community, and our kids. Kids get good jobs, and they get good help. I think businesses are going to be able to get good workers in our kids,” Bagstad said.

So far businesses such as Companeros, Blueberry Pines Restaurant, Two Inlets Resorts and Super 8 have taken advantage of the free advertisement, offering available positions such as dishwashing, cabin cleaning and housekeeping.

“Right not what we have had has been more seasonal work, but some of the kids may end up working throughout the school year. We’re really just trying to open our doors to help not only the kids but the businesses as well,” Johnson said.

Administration officials say they aren’t looking to push students into the working world under the guise of a mutually beneficial partnership with the chamber and the local business community. Instead, both Bagstad and Johnson say the program is about expanding the availability of both education and employment to all their students.

“I don’t think we’re a recruiter. I don’t think we’re pushing kids into it. I think we’re giving kids options. The student that is interested or looking for a job, they usually come and get the information. We didn’t start this to take away from any school activity, only to align students with potential employers that are looking for people. We’re really just trying to build a bigger connection,” Johnson said.

“It’s benefitting both the kids and the employers as well. Kids are always looking for summertime work and when kids are working it sometimes keeps them from doing other things. It’s giving them a good work ethic and it’s benefitting the employers because they are able to get their name out there more and maybe see more applicants. But I think there is also a balance to everything. Some parents choose to not have their kids work during the summer, or high school days, and that’s for them to decide,” Johnson said.

“We have college reps and other people coming in during lunch periods already. All of the kids are there during that time, and if kids want a job, let’s let them know that people are coming,” Bagstad said.

“I think it’s beneficial for all sides; the kids get jobs, we start building more relationships with businesses, and the businesses get good quality kids. It’s an opportunity for them to go and talk to somebody about maybe getting a job, in a safe environment. What an opportunity for businesses to come in and see our kids, and our kids have an opportunity to decide,” Bagstad said.

The term “opportunity” was a focal selling point of the program’s benefit to both the students and school.

Bagstad, Johnson and Lalum are all optimistic the opportunity will give students an outlet to work on skills necessary later in a professional setting, and that some may use the experience as motivation to further their own education.

“I see it as an opportunity to meet with folks and work on interpersonal skills with a prospective employer – maybe I need to comb my hair today, or work on my preparation about some questions they might ask me,” Bagstad said. “I would certainly hope that kids who get these entry level jobs say that I’m not going to be working here forever. I look at it even with my own children; there are needs and wants that require certain funds, and there’s also the ethics that go into having a job – being accountable is a very important part of growing up. Kids also need to be kids, and there has to be a happy medium,” Bagstad said.

“Sometimes employers can help support those kids to stay in school and get an education. Some kids might be on the edge of dropping out, but have a good employer that says ‘stay in school and keep working.’ We will modify some hours, but stay in school. You need a high school diploma,” Johnson said.

“Education prepares children for life, and in your life you’re going to have to work. Employers are looking for skills like organization, attention to detail and timeliness with these entry-level positions,” Lalum said. “The community working with the school district is a good way for the kids to learn real life skills that will follow them forward as well as help the business community as they ramp up into the summer season.”

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Nick Longworth
A graduate from St. Cloud State University, Nick photographs and writes a variety of stories for nearly every section of The Park Rapids Enterprise. His duties also include section layouts and online content submission.
(218) 732-3364
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