Once a student graduates a trade program, the school’s responsibility toward them is largely over, but that doesn’t mean the relationship should end. Alumni are one of the most underutilized, but vital resources in skilled trade training . Staying in touch takes effort, but good alumni relations are a huge asset to a school and its students.
To have a healthy alumni network, the first step is to keep up-to-date info on them. This includes the basics–name, address, email, phone–but also where they work and the roles they hold. An online database, whether it’s Google Drive, Dropbox or something similar, makes that easier. Additionally, it’s important to periodically check with alumni on where they are and what they’re doing. Email and a Google Form are efficient ways to collect this information at once, but some will require extra effort.
“We get all their info before they graduate, and follow up with them to find their placement,” says Lisa Wixo, Student Success Coordinator at North Dakota State College of Science. “We call if they don’t answer their emails.”
It’s difficult to overstate how much alumni can do for a school. They make natural contacts at area companies, which helps facilitate job links and site visits. They can also act as mentors for students who want to get a better sense of day-to-day life in a given field. For those who move into a hiring role, they make an ideal hiring partner for the school. This can create a virtuous cycle of alumni helping future cohorts.
“I see [alumni relations] as extremely valuable,” says Doug Bowman, HTEC Director at Vincennes University. “In terms of marketing our program they’re our best marketers- a lot of our new students come from word of mouth through our graduates…. Since we have been doing this for a long time, our graduates are now in a position where they’re hiring new graduates or sending new students to the program.”
All of this is much easier when your students and alumni feel a natural connection to the school. Gatherings every six months can go a long way toward making the school feel like a community. These don’t have to be fancy affairs–just bring people together for a night they’ll actually enjoy. Larger schools should consider electing a coordinator from each cohort to help facilitate these meetings.
Creating a strong alumni network involves an initial investment, but the rewards are well worth it. Even if you don’t see immediate results from the time and money it takes to strengthen alumni connections, know that increasing the level of contact your school has with alumni can only pay dividends down the road.