Small Businesses Pave the Way for Supporting Youth

Dana Pungello
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November 27, 2019

So how does this play into our efforts to prepare youth for the future workforce? How do we ensure that students are exposed to the career opportunities that are most likely to be available to them? How do we ensure that we are building a talent pipeline to local businesses?

Local communities often run on small businesses as a major local economic driver and employment contributor, and these small businesses invest in their communities and support the people who live there. They play an integral role in developing the talent pipeline that will go on to fill jobs within their local areas and beyond. Small businesses’ investment in its people start early. As NAF works to ensure that we are creating connections for students to their futures, we see that small businesses are the top internship providers for our high school students, employing 31.5% of all NAF interns nationwide.

In small town Elmira, in Western New York, many who live there rely on local business for their livelihood. The town once had booming railroad and manufacturing industries, but the recession of the 1970s led many large employers in the area to close their factories, including General Electric and Westinghouse. Around the same time, the town took a major blow when Hurricane Agnes flooded its downtown area. With limited access to an abundance of employment opportunities, small businesses are critical to the city’s success. Small manufacturing companies like Southern Tier Custom Fabricating and Hardinge, Inc, have provided internships to students in the NAF Academy of Finance at Elmira High School, the city’s only local high school. “I was proud to be able to work with so many great people, and I believe that getting to experience the line of work I am interested in was more helpful than any class I could ever take,” said one student intern of his time spent working at Southern Tier Custom Fabricating.

Down south, in Sanford, North Carolina, the population is a little smaller than Elmira. The city benefits from many large employers such as Tyson Foods, Pfizer, and Caterpillar Inc., but small businesses still play a key role in the community. In fact, Mertek Solutions was named the state’s top small business in 2017 by Business North Carolina. Jerry Pedley, the owner of Mertek, is a founding member of Southern Lee High School/Lee County Schools Engineering advisory board. Mr. Pedley has sponsored activities for students – lending materials, resources, and time — and has also assisted in securing internships. One of the biggest events is “Manufacturing Day,” where Mr. Pedley takes students on a tour of the facilities and shows them all the operations and equipment. He has built a reputation in the community as someone that is very kind, gracious, giving, and unmatched in his support for our students and their education.

At NAF, we are always thinking about the future of work and what we can do to ensure that the opportunities our students get align with what they can expect to encounter on their career journeys. Small businesses that support NAF academies on the local level know that their knowledge and dedication to these youth will pay dividends for small town USA for years to come. We hope you will join us in supporting your community by supporting small businesses that are making a difference in the lives of young people.

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Dana Pungello is the Senior Director of Communications at NAF. She is a firm believer in the power of opportunity that opens doors for young people to endless possibilities. Dana writes about the talent pipeline, student innovations, and the important role employers play in developing the future workforce.