Program links students with job experience

Michigan State Roundup

Published January 1, 1992  | January 1992 issue

Bay de Noc Community College in Escanaba offers students a practical program that combines study and work experience. The program, Contracting With Business and Industry (CWB&I), can give students a competitive edge in the job market or a taste of an actual career. Since 1976, CWB&I has helped employ or reemploy nearly 700 men and women in the Upper Peninsula (U.P.).

CWB&I staff help students arrange hands-on experience in a business setting related to their field of study. The training positions are in fields not offered in the college's degree programs. "The program goes above and beyond the regular curriculum," explains coordinator Shirley Behrend.

Students choose from 70 training positions in over 200 businesses in such diverse areas as optometry, veterinarian studies, insurance and banking, physical therapy and medicine. CWB&I recruits the businesses, screens the students and then helps match the student to the position.

A pioneer at its inception in this type of college-industry link, CWB&I has since been copied at 17 colleges nationwide. CWB&I differs from internships in that it is a two-semester commitment in which the students work 12 hours per week in a training position and carry a full academic load related to the job. Students are evaluated on the job and do not get paid. The businesses, paid a nominal hourly fee, provide training with pre- established goals and review the students' progress. At the end of the year a certificate of completion is awarded.

Students range in age from 18 to 51 and come to the program with anything from specific training goals in mind to uncertainty about what they want to do. Behrend reports that most students are women. Some are retraining because of unemployment, some just starting out in post- secondary education, some changing or enhancing careers.

For students, CWB&I can be the start of a career or a foot in the door. For many, the program whets their appetites for further education. It is not unusual for students to go on to receive bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees or to earn professional certification as a result of their experience with CWB&I, Behrend says.

The advantage to business and industry is that CWB&I students are seen as prospective employees. According to Behrend, with industry training costs topping $10,000 per new employee, businesses are happy to get to know students' work habits. "And they love an opportunity to teach," she reports.

In the U.P. the September unemployment rate at 9 percent was almost 3 percentage points higher than the national rate. Behrend believes CWB&I helps people direct their own future. "The placement rate for students in jobs of their choice is 87 percent," she says. "It puts people back to work, keeps them off the welfare roles."

Nettie Pignatello