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  • Corporate Advisory Board Features Flex Spending Account

    May 17, 2017 | By NACE Staff

    Organizational Structure
    Professionals debate what to spend their flex money on.

    TAGS: STEM, best practices, operations, program development, spotlight

    Spotlight for Career Services Professionals

    About five years ago, Michigan Technological University (MTU) began seeing an increase in demand from employers for students in the STEM fields.

    “We saw so many resources getting ready to flow on campus that we needed to structure a way to manage those resources to benefit both our students and the corporations at the same time,” says Steve Patchin, director of career services.

    To do so, MTU established a corporate advisory board (CAB) composed of approximately 40 corporations. There are no requirements to participate or cap on the board’s number of employers.

    However, there are several key benefits for participating organizations. Among them is an innovative flexible spending account program associated with career services sponsorship. Each employer receives money in its flexible spending account depending of its sponsorship level, which is on a tiered level as follows:

    • Copper Level—$2,500, with $500 of it placed in the company’s flexible spending account.
    • Silver Level—$5,000, with $1,500 of it placed in the company’s flexible spending account.
    • Gold Level—$10,000, with $4,000 of it placed in the company’s flexible spending account.
    • Platinum Level (in development)—$20,000, with $10,000 of it placed in the company’s flexible spending account.

    Additional money can be added to the account at any time.

    “This money is put into the account and it rolls over each year,” Patchin says. “Corporate advisory board members can use it for anything that they want, but most use it for sponsoring student activities. It’s nice for them because if they have extra money at the end of the year, they can put it into their account knowing it will help their budget for the following year.”

    For example, Patchin explains that if there is a downturn in the economy and companies are cutting their recruiting budgets, those that have money in their MTU flexible spending account can use it to sustain their engagement on campus.

    “The goal of this program is to give our corporate advisory board members a tool that they could use to immediately respond to student requests for support,” Patchin notes. “That’s where it’s been most beneficial because student organizations tend to come up with new ideas quickly, while for employers, it may take a 12-month cycle to get budgetary requests approved. With this flexible spending account, our board members can respond with a phone call. Within 24 hours, they can satisfy the request for sponsorship. It gets around a lot of the red tape they usually experience with budget requests.”

    The career services office has organized the sponsorship opportunities in an online “store” that CAB members can “shop” in when considering their on-campus branding activities. For instance, some employers like to sponsor educational events, while others prefer those centered on leadership or diversity and inclusion.

    The flexible spending accounts are managed by the career services office. Through the office’s new website that will be launched in August, CAB employers will be able to log in and get a full spreadsheet of the money in their account and their expenditures from it over the last five years.

    “The spreadsheet will show how much they spent on each event so if they have to go to corporate with how their budget money is being used, they can pull it right up,” Patchin says, adding that the flexible spending account program has been very beneficial for both sides.

    “It took a while for the corporations to understand it, but now that it’s in place and they know the money is safe and they can account for and access it whenever they want, it has been a huge benefit to them,” he says. “It feels like the employers are on campus all the time because there’s always money flowing from the partners into some event. In terms of career culture, the more companies that are on campus sponsoring these different events, the stronger that culture becomes.”

    In addition to the flexible spending account program, there are other benefits associated with CAB participation. First and foremost is access. CAB members meet on campus once a year.

    “It’s not required that they attend, but if they want to have a voice on campus, they do get in front of our president and our provost with quality time,” Patchin says. “Access comes at a premium, so it’s worth it to them to show up to these events.”

    In addition, CAB members get data from the sponsored events that is otherwise not shared with emp. Patchin also says CAB members have the immediate attention of the career services staff.

    “Our career advisory board members get carte blanche as far as requests go,” Patchin says. “Think of it as a hotline to us.”

    That comes in handy during MTU’s fall (340 to 370 companies) or spring (220 to 240 companies) career fairs, during which CAB members get to choose their booth locations.

    CAB employers are also featured in the MTU career services office’s annual reports, which are distributed to all first-year students and prospective students at college fairs, and are sent out widely to highlight MTU and its placement rates.

    “We also feature our corporate advisory board members in videos in which they could be providing, for example, resume, introduction, or interview advice,” Patchin says. “We also do co-op and internship videos where we go out in the field to take video of our students on internships and co-ops, and talk with them about what they are working on and what their experience was like.”

    The videos are posted on the MTU career services YouTube channel and used during career services presentations.

    “It’s priceless branding,” Patchin says.

    On the other side, in addition to recruiting at MTU and providing internship and co-op opportunities, CAB members are expected to share their expertise and industry insight.

    “We depend on them for a whole lot,” Patchin says. “Obviously, one of the big things going forward is new careers that are emerging every day.”

    For example, Patchin says technology in the automotive industry is advancing rapidly.

    “We’ve got autonomous vehicles coming out and technology is moving so quickly that employers are trying to catch up,” he says. “Whereas companies in the automotive industry needed mechanical engineers in the past, now they need mechanical engineers with a heavy software background. Or they’re looking for computer engineers with hardware and software proficiencies.”

    Members of MTU’s CAB explain new careers that are developing and provide insight into industrial trends. MTU’s career services office asks about their educational needs, such as the minors and certificates that they see as valuable. Recently, CAB employers indicated that they want an engineering management minor available to all engineering students.

    Patchin explains that when the MTU career services office first began developing its CAB, the office had a clear vision of what the board would look like. However, the office provided benefits that the CAB employers didn’t want because they had different needs.

    “It has evolved to be more collaborative,” he says. “During our last meeting, we spent the whole time discussing benefits and data points. Each company has to explain how it's spending money. These budgets continue to get tighter, especially in college recruiting, though the recruiting needs keep increasing. They need to justify their expenditures and our benefits need to reflect what’s important to them.”

    Patchin says working with a corporate advisory board is well worth the effort as board members can be the career center’s best ally in a job market that is constantly shifting and within industries that are ever-changing.

    “Think of it as ‘The Wizard of Oz,’” he says. “With everything that’s going on in the job market, there are so many curtains out there. Your corporate advisory board employers can let you see behind these curtains with data and information that are valuable as you work with your students, faculty, and administration. The corporate advisory board is a partnership of trust. We need them and they need us, and the relationship benefits all involved.”