This summer, the NAF Next 2016 conference took place in Orlando, Florida, from July 18-20. During the conference, winners of the Lenovo Scholar Network’s 2016 Mobile App Development Competition were recognized for their achievements. JD Hoye, president of NAF, joins us to share how partnerships with businesses like Lenovo improve education and the economy by strengthening the talent pipeline.
At NAF, our mission is to solve the biggest challenges facing education and the economy by bringing education, business, and community leaders together to transform the high school experience. This is anchored in an overall vision for a world where all young people have equal opportunity for successful futures. Our NAF academies tackle the challenge of combining traditional curriculum with hands-on experience through the power of public and private partnership.
Too often, the education system sits in its space and the economic world sits in a different space, hoping that young people can navigate these separate spaces as they move through the educational experience and into employment. NAF suggests that in order to be successful in this transition, there needs to be a powerful alignment between what is happening in school and what the future workforce needs. By leveraging corporate partnerships, NAF helps students graduate from high school knowing what they want to do, with the applicable skills and leadership experience to make them successful employees who meet the needs of the global economy.
Business Partners in the Classroom
Time is short, and high school days are packed with core requirements students need to graduate. Therefore, instruction in the traditional high school setting is often disconnected from real-world applications and workplace knowledge. NAF aims to offer courses that integrate with the core classes in ways that connect students to future career paths.
Business partnerships are the perfect way to ensure the curriculum content is current and cultivates the skills of interest and in demand today. Companies offer advice and curriculum review for teachers, plus job shadowing opportunities, office tours, and exposure to the workplace for students. For example, young people can explore what it might really look like to be a chemist or an engineer.
Then, in 11th and 12th grades, companies offer paid internships where students receive a real job, paycheck, and employer evaluation. The opportunity for students to apply classroom knowledge in a way that adds value in the workplace reinforces the importance of what they learn in school.
For students that are financially challenged, getting that paycheck really matters. However, these paid internships are a two-way street. Businesses are quick to acknowledge that while these paid internships are philanthropic, they also get a lot back from the innovation of these young people. What better group to bring in and work with on a regular basis than your future users?
At NAF, we argue that a company’s investment in a paid internship has a double advantage—it provides both a job and a career building experience. In the same dollar, you get a better return both for the individual and for the company. It’s a competitive benefit to look deeper into the talent pipeline when thinking about where to put resources and emphasis. We believe high school is a place for that.
NAF and Lenovo: A Success Story
Lenovo is one company that has helped build public will and understanding in the marketplace that providing work-based learning experiences for students and partnering with high schools is an investment, not an expense. This is not a giveaway, but it helps to grow your company. NAF and Lenovo come together at a common place, both striving to offer a high degree of support and value around high school students, with a focus on helping those from low socioeconomic backgrounds to have the same career opportunities.
Lenovo has joined NAFTrack Certified Hiring—a promise made by some of the country’s top companies to provide special consideration to college students and job applicants who earned NAFTrack Certification in high school. NAFTrack keeps students connected with opportunities after graduation and throughout their careers, while Lenovo gets access to a future talent group. When Lenovo joined NAFTrack Certified Hiring, it illustrated that hiring and reaching high school talent down the road is a part of its organizational design.
Mobile App Development Brings Real Experience
NAF has also partnered with Lenovo to launch the Lenovo Scholar Network at over 50 NAF academies. This program aims to create greater interest in STEM careers through mobile app development, which shifts the learning process from reading, memorizing, and regurgitating to reading, learning, and applying—then testing.
App development gives students the opportunity to work in a team, identify a problem, and figure out how to use technology to solve the problem. It is anchored in the notion that their apps should serve to actually create a solution. There is a value-based benefit in terms of what Lenovo has done in the app world, which creates teachable moments for these young people.
The program supplies students with Lenovo devices and access to the MIT Center for Mobile Learning’s App Inventor, a web-based tool for creating Android apps. These are the shiny new materials that schools often feel they can never access because they cost more than most IT budgets can support, and they require coaching in order to use the App Inventor successfully. To overcome the latter concern, Lenovo supplies coaching and advising for both teachers and students to build a network of knowledge.
After developing these apps, the school year culminates in a national competition where six apps are chosen as the winners. Several of the 2016 winning apps were tools to improve the classroom, likes Steps to Success and Student Tracker 9000, proving that students were able to utilize their new skills to improve their communities while gaining real-world experience. From these initial six winners, two Fan Favorites were announced at the 2016 NAF Next conference: QMT Translator and Emoji Encouragement.
Ultimately, both students and businesses stand to benefit from greater collaboration and exposure to one another. By supporting young people throughout their high school experience, businesses invest in the future of our communities and economy. Together, NAF and Lenovo have designed innovative ways to connect underserved students with the technology and tangible skills needed to succeed in today’s workplace. Programs like NAFTrack Certified Hiring and the Lenovo Scholar Network have proved successful at connecting motivated businesses with eager students, like those celebrated at the NAF Next conference, to bridge the divide.