7 tips for arranging job shadow days at your company

Letting kids shadow their parents at work is a good way to educate them about career opportunities. Here are some tips for structuring the day so it goes smoothly for everyone.

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Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work day began in the early 90s when the organization's founders encountered research showing that girls began to lose their sense of self-esteem in adolescence. One way they saw to counter this was to create opportunities for girls to investigate careers they might be interested in. The day has since grown to include sons as well as daughters.

This year's official Take our Daughters and Sons to Work day is April 26th, but a job shadow day can take place any time.

My own memories of such a day began before there was an official organization around the cause -- when my dad, a high school mathematics teacher, decided to take me to work.

It is impossible to describe the sense of excitement and inclusion that I felt as we piled into the car to go to his school--and how the kids in his classes laughed when he drew a polygon on one side of the board -- and I stood up at the other side of the board and recreated what he drew for the lesson.

I never forgot the experience--or the beginning of a feeling at the age of seven that perhaps one day, I would also teach (which I did) or even be in business (which I did).

Later, when I was an IT manager, my company sponsored the day and several higher ups asked me if I would mind showing their daughters around for "a day in the life" of my job.

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If you'd like to implement a job shadow day at your company, here are some tips. There's a section at the end for parents who want to bring their kids.

Develop some ground rules

Employees who are bringing in children in for the day will do a better job of parenting or supervision at work if they have some guidelines to follow. A bring your child to work day should never stop at just bringing your child along with you and just having him or her sit beside you all day long.

The most rewarding experience for the child is to be engaged with the work environment to see first hand what mom or dad does, and to actually participate, if possible. This means that a plan for how the child will spend the day should be developed by the employee and reviewed and approved by the manager in advance of the "bring your child" day.

Coordinate individual bring your child plans

If your company manufactures automobiles and every employee's child wants a tour of the production floor to see how cars are made, this won't work unless tours are organized and coordinated. In some cases, there might be more children who want to attend a certain event than the company can accommodate. For this reason, managers should collaborate with HR on scheduling and logistics, especially if the company is very large.

Solicit feedback after the event

It's always a good idea to follow up with employees on any corporate activity to see what was liked, and what employees would like to see improved. Bring your child to work day is no exception. Like other business activities, it should be subject to a continuous improvement process so it can be continuously improved.

Advice for parents:

Structure the day

The day shouldn't be about just sitting your child in a corner while you work. There should be a plan for how your child will be engaged in learning and experiencing their day at your workplace. At the end of the day, your child should be able to summarize what you do and how you spend your time.

Appeal to your child's interests

Maybe you're an accountant but your child likes to work with computers. Why not see if you can arrange for your child to spend lunch and part of the day with you--but part of the day as well in the IT department?

Set the ground rules with your child

Before taking your child to work, you should go over the plan and schedule for that day and let your child know what you expect from them in return. These days are planned for kids, but the company's normal workflows should have minimal interruption.

Always debrief

After the day, it's a nice finishing touch to take your child out for a treat, or to sit down after dinner to review the day and to ask your child what they learned. It might not be what you expected, but you will learn more about your child and their interests, and they will never forget the day.

Also see:

Image: iStock/omgimages

By Mary Shacklett

Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President o...