Opinion

College Students Are a Vital Resource

Editorial

It is September, and by now, thousands of college students have returned to campuses across the region.

Thus, this is a good time to re-emphasize the importance of higher education to this region and its economy. The colleges and universities that call Western Mass. home generate thousands of jobs, purchase products and services from a number of locally based companies, and spur research that can be generated into companies that employ area residents.

But these schools provide another important resource for this region — the students themselves.

They also purchase goods and services, and therefore make an important contribution to the economy, but they play a potentially larger role by taking internships, co-ops, and part-time jobs with companies large and small across the four counties. In doing so, they provide skills, energy, ideas, and the perspective of a generation that will soon dominate the workforce and the consuming public.

It is important for area businesses to take full advantage of this resource — in a careful and thoughtful manner.

Indeed, interns and part-term employees can make valuable contributions to a company — while also positioning themselves for full-time employment later — if they are brought into situations that could be described with the phrase ‘win-win.’

And we encourage both area schools and the business community as a whole to generate more of these situations by creating opportunities for students and employers to meet one another.

Doing so will only benefit all the parties in this equation. But, as we said, it needs to be done properly.

Companies create problems for themselves when they look upon interns as a solution to workforce problems, budget concerns, or both. Too many companies have looked at pressing problems and loaded calendars and responded with the well-worn phrase, ‘let’s get some interns.’

These young people can’t, and should not, be expected to do the work of seasoned employees. Nor should they be thrust into situations where the demands exceed their skill levels.

But, as we said, when interns are placed in proper positions — ones where they contribute and learn — they can be invaluable assets and become future members of a workforce.

Young people can bring energy to a staff, but they can also bring a fresh perspective. Baby Boomers and those who came just behind them can’t look at the world from the perspective of a 21-year-old, but a college junior or senior can, and that kind of insight can be critical, especially in an age when rapidly advancing technology is changing the way people communicate, shop, get their news, market their companies, and gain the public’s attention.

Today’s young people are in many ways driving this change, and they understand it at least as well as those of us born decades before them.

Area colleges are back in session. That’s good for this region in a number of ways. One of the most important is the sum of the contributions students can make to area businesses, nonprofits, and governmental agencies.

This is a tremendous resource, one that should be recognized and capitalized upon.

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