Best Practices
March 26, 2012

Washington Business Week Provides Students with Hands-on Experience

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More than 36 years ago, the president of Central Washington University began facilitating meetings to bring business and education leaders together. Even at that time, there was a consensus that students were not graduating with the necessary skills employers were seeking. Eventually, these gatherings spurred the Association of Washington Business (AWB) to form Washington Business Week (WBW)—a single summer session that brings 225 high school students together to learn the necessary skills to succeed in the workforce. Today, WBW has grown to serve nearly 3,000 teens annually throughout the state of Washington while 26 other states have adapted and adopted the program model. WBW has also gone international with programs in Australia and Poland. Business volunteers from this program have included, The Boeing Company, Microsoft, PEMCO Insurance, State Farm Insurance, and Costco Wholesale Corporation, among others.

WBW hosts a series of activities including an in-school community program and a summer program. In the last 36 years, more than 50,000 students and teachers have graduated from the summer program. The summer program is hosted in four universities per year for one week and involves around 30 community leaders and business volunteers per campus. “Companies” are made up of 10 to 15 students in addition to a “company advisor,” most commonly a volunteer from the local business community. Each company advisor helps students complete challenges in real-life business scenarios through a computer simulation, competing against one another in the world of production, marketing, and finance. Throughout the week, students develop crucial skills such as learning to run a business, making tough ethical and financial decisions, and competing for investors.

WBW offers a three-tiered pricing structure and provides financial assistance to families who are unable to cover the full week cost of the summer residential program. Corporate contributions, small business donations, and individual gifts allow for increased student access. Thanks to partnerships with Edmonds Community College and Walla Walla Community College, students who want to earn two elective college credits can pay a discounted tuition rate of $75. Business volunteers find value and benefit by giving back to the community and ensuring a more highly-skilled workforce of the future. Additionally, volunteers have the opportunity to develop relationships with education leaders and network with other business leaders, and develop their skills in leadership and management.

Other avenues for community member involvement include the 40 to 70 volunteers per campus who act as judges or “investors” for trade show and stockholder presentations. The volunteer stockholder evaluates the final presentations on the operation of a simulated business along with the introduction of a new product created by the pseudo companies. Investors then spend “Business Week Bucks” to support the best new business ventures presented. This program has proven to be so important that Aberdeen High School in Washington State has made participation in Business Week a required activity in each student’s portfolio for graduation.

The in-school community program format is very similar to the summer program except that it runs for one week at the high school and is supported by community businesses. Furthermore, Business Week hosts a variety of pathway programs to cater to each student’s career interest including an Advanced Business Week, Get AMPT! (Manufacturing) Week, Healthcare Week, Energy Week, and new in 2012—AgriBusiness Week. Clearly, this model allows for adaptation to whatever the needs are of the local community and offers many opportunities for business leaders to lend their expertise and connect with the future workforce. For more information on Washington Business Week, visit their website.

This article appears in ICW's March 2012 newsletter.