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University of Wisconsin Oshkosh students are often thrust into real-world experiences to help them grow and develop as students and launch them into their professions.

Recently, 10 UW Oshkosh students worked with Plexus Corp., a Neenah-based global product realization solution company, to create on-board human resources training for new employees using and applying course materials.

“Over the course of the semester (the students) were able to accomplish not only the course objectives and the project goals but they did so in a way that grew their confidence in working in real-world environments,” said Christy Brazee, assistant professor of communication at UW Oshkosh.

Brazee said the upper-level class was centered around an action learning project in which students collaborated to address a real-world problem organizational problem.

“It is the application of the skills that were learned in the classroom that really is the benefit of the class as a whole,” said Tyler Fields, a UW Oshkosh student studying communication. “Getting out there and applying all the skills that we have been hearing in the class room, gives the students the confidence and justification that can only build on their success in the future.”

Brazee said it is common at many companies that employees are thrust into human resources orientation presentations and bombarded with company information and safety regulations as one of the first experiences at a new company.

“Because we do not have a formal feedback process on our orientation program, we valued the student’s insight on what was working and not working with our current offering,” said Andrew Lehner, corporate human resources manager at Plexus.

The class had two main goals in order to improve the training: increase the retention of information from the training material and make training more engaging for the employees.

“Part of the data gathering was about knowledge retention of the employees, which we then compared to the aspects of the orientation where we place the most value,” Lehner said.

Lehner said the students helped the corporation see what some of the flaws of the training were.

“Students were able to offer unique perspective on our program, which we do not get internally,” Lehner said.

The class was a perfect candidate since they, like new employees, had limited knowledge of the company and of the process of learning the first-day training, Brazee said.

“They could assume that audience perspective while at the same time work with the materials and our clients in order to create a new program,” Brazee added.

The class started conducting interviews of Plexus trainers and employees to get a feel of the on-board training process.

“After numerous interviews and surveys with current Plexus employees, we gained a direction that they wanted to go as a company and tried to customize a training program that best suited their needs as a company,” Fields said.

Each step of the process was sectioned into progress check assignments for the class, meeting with employees at Plexus and bouncing ideas back-and-forth while they gave feedback and suggestions to the class before finally presenting a finalized product to the corporation.

“In the end, suggestions about training checklists, the order of orientation slides and activities, and the message around our organizational policies were all modified. This was a result of hard work on the student’s part putting together a new presentation with supporting materials,” Lehner said. “The materials were well thought out and helped us make changes to our orientation program.”

Lehner said he enjoyed working with the students and the opportunity to use a third-party source to help improve the training.

“I think classes like this give students the opportunity to partner with organizations in the community and help keep UW Oshkosh well grounded in the community,” Lehner said.

Brazee said the students benefit the most from the class.

“(The class) maintains a strong emphasis on course learning all the while incorporating much more of the real world skills that students need in order to take what they have learned and do stuff with it,” Brazee said.

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