Students planning to study business will get a closer look at the inside of local companies this spring as part of a new program developed by the Howard County Chamber of Commerce and the county schools' Academy of Finance.
The Americans for the Competitive Enterprise System program, known as ACES, will supplement the students' classroom study of networking, resume writing and interviewing with field trips to local businesses to speak one-on-one with executives and vie for summer internships.
The four-month program got under way last week with a reception at the county's Neotech incubator, where County Executive James N. Robey, chamber President Kara Calder and county Economic Development Authority Executive Director Richard W. Story addressed students.
Story said the program was important to continuing economic development in the county because it encourages students to look for jobs at home.
"The reality is, all these kids are going off [to] college," Story said. "There's no four-year degree-granting university in Howard County, [and] statistics show young people are employed where they have their educational experience. Usually when they're ready to work, that's where they start. Since that's not happening in Howard County, we need to encourage our best and brightest to come back home."
The program is part of the chamber's efforts to better equip students to enter the work force. The chamber has a similar program, Passport to the Future, that is offered to students in the schools system's Career Research Development program, for students who are undecided about pursuing higher education.
Chamber board member Nancy Szlasa said ACES is designed for students who are likely to go to college and who might become business leaders. She said she hopes that participating will persuade some of them to return to the county after college.
"Rather than leaving the county, we want them to know there are opportunities in Howard County," said Szlasa, who is also the business education coordinator at Glenelg Country School.
"It prepares them to take leadership roles in the business community," she said. "A lot of times, students come back and say, 'Where can we find a really good job?'"
ACES is a voluntary program offered to high school juniors enrolled in the Academy of Finance, a four-year business training program with in-school and after-school components at Howard and River Hill high schools. About 30 juniors are expected to participate, along with six other organizations: Amerix Corp., Princeton Sports and Travel, Ford Motor Credit Co., Yolanda Voss Gallery International Inc., Star Hotels and the county's incubator.
The program grew out a similar one sponsored by the chamber and schools that took high school teachers on tours of local businesses to help them identify how their subjects can be applied to the work world.
In the ACES program, the students will each visit three local businesses - one a month - and spend two hours with an executive touring the company's facilities and learning about the types of management jobs available there and job qualifications required. Business leaders will give students a sense of the education path required for those jobs and what a person might expect coming from college, and how a person might work his or her way through the ranks of the company.
The students will learn more about how business contributes to society, and business leaders will get to know potential employees.
"Students are generally unaware of the business community that surrounds them," said Casey Crouse, director of the Academy of Finance. "They know where the fast-food restaurants are, but they don't know down the street ... even very small businesses are doing very interesting things that are not in the forefront of the kids' minds.
"The other idea is students need to get the exposure of what a workplace looks like. Lots have been to work with mom or dad, [but] ... they're not focusing on what's the big picture: How does [the company] fit into the community? How does it compete, [and] stay economically viable?"
The program can also help students get a jump-start on a summer job. Academy of Finance students are required to have a summer internship after their junior year, and organizers hope some of the participating businesses will extend the program by offering students internships.