By Christine Galib

As our 21st-century, global world becomes increasingly more connected, digitally dependent, and AI-reliant, what knowledge and skillsets are the most crucial for our students to learn and develop as they embark on their own paths to adulthood and create their own futures? A recent survey from the U.S. Census Bureau reported that a majority of young Americans believe education and economic accomplishments are extremely important parts of adulthood. As educational leaders, a key part of our job is to ensure our students set out on their own paths prepared to pursue their passions, actualize their dreams, and thrive in their academic and professional experiences. In seeking to thrive in the “real world” by setting and accomplishing meaningful goals and engaging in purposeful work, more and more individuals are becoming entrepreneurs to create their own future.

In a report from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, Babson College and Baruch College found that 27 million working-age Americans, nearly 14 percent of our working population, are starting or running new businesses. This is a record high. On the other side of that number, however, nearly nine out of 10 startups fail. So how do we prepare our students with the skills necessary to succeed as entrepreneurs, or facilitate learning experiences that enable students to develop the knowledge-sets, skillsets, and mindsets to create their own futures with courage, confidence and conviction? How do we teach students to recognize and seize opportunities, maneuver and persevere around perceived roadblocks, and pivot and change strategies when needed?

Adecco Staffing recently surveyed 500 senior executives and asked if the current American workforce had the skills necessary for success. The study found:

  • 92% of Americans are not as skilled as they need to be for career success
  • 44% lack the “soft skills” of Communication, Creativity, Critical Thinking and Collaboration
  • 59% of senior executives believe our education system is to blame for this gap

Entrepreneurship Programs

In addition to teaching core skills of literacy, communication, and critical analysis, through a myriad of disciplines schools must work with students to help them develop skills that translate into characteristics that position students to start and run their own businesses and that are coveted by companies in the real world. These skills include having a strong sense of self-identity, self-awareness, and self-efficacy; thinking independently, interactively, and innovatively; enjoying and excelling at complex and creative problem solving; identifying, compiling, and evaluating data; working well with collaborators and stakeholders across a range of sectors; and acting honestly, responsibly, and perceptively. To enable students to develop these skills, The Village School offers our high school students a four-year Entrepreneurship Diploma, with Founding Partner Bridges to Wealth at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. However, even without an official program, schools can still prepare its students for college and beyond by empowering them with business literacy knowledge and 21st-century life skills.

Coursework

At Village, in addition to hands-on experiences that facilitate learning outside the classroom, and that bring in entrepreneurs and business owners as part of the Entrepreneurship Diploma’s Speaker Series, students engage in Core Courses, Internship Opportunities, and a Capstone Project, which introduce them to business literacy knowledge and 21st-century life skills. Through student-centered activities, these courses build the skills mentioned above and include the key themes below:

  • Entrepreneurship: creative and lateral thinking; competitive analysis and marketing; pricing and cost strategies; business operations, HR, and relationship management
  • Leadership Development: analysis of traits of strong, adaptive leaders; creating and driving sustainable change in systems; communication and collaboration skills
  • Private Equity and Venture Capital: investing, managing capital, understanding risk
  • Strategy and Marketing: applying marketing to strategic business contexts
  • Decision Making: learning decision-making frameworks and tools; rational vs. emotional decisions; information gathering in decision-making processes
  • Financial Literacy: budgeting and saving, managing credit, reducing debt
  • Negotiations: strategies for negotiating and bargaining

In the absence of a formal diploma, an entrepreneurship program for high school students can closely follow the course work of business students at a four-year higher education institution. Schools can leverage its faculty and staff’s life-skill and professional expertise: K-12 educators have years of experience to share with students to better develop business and interpersonal literacy. Also, local business owners, successful school alumni, and parents are usually willing to speak with students in career day panels or as part of speaker series.

Mentorships and Internships

In high school, student-centered and problem-based learning enables students to connect with real-world environments and experiences to develop business literacy and interpersonal skills. Mentoring by entrepreneurs, business professionals, and professors in a school’s networks is a crucial component of any entrepreneurship program. Connecting students interested in building their own start-ups with successful entrepreneurs in the community provides students with meaningful, powerful, and life-long relationships that shape career goals and professional experiences.

Providing professional experiences for students should be more than just job shadowing. Students should research their interests and seek to gain internship experience with non-profits or local businesses actively working to design solutions that align with students’ interests. Beyond an internship, a rigorous extension experience that showcases students’ learnings is a Capstone Project. This project, which is similar to a thesis paper or MBA program’s final project, challenges students to identify a community or industry need, integrate research with their professional experiences, and propose a sustainable solution.

Of course, these are ideas to help develop an entrepreneurship program – not necessarily an entrepreneur. For educational leaders to truly ignite the innovation spark and promote practices that foster and develop passion, drive and dedication, within our students, we must adopt and practice more creative and innovative teaching and learning methods ourselves. We must take more creative risks as we “fail forward” and empower our students, and ourselves, to satiate our intellectual curiosity by never feeling too afraid or embarrassed to “think different” as we keep questioning our world. We must position our students to take a proactive role in starting their own paths, pursuing their own passions, and creating their own future. To do this, we must trust our students – and ourselves – to lead adaptively, to think creatively, and to never stop asking “What if?”

For more on entrepreneurship, see:

Christine Galib is The Entrepreneurship Diploma and Wellness Director at Nord Anglia’s The Village School in Houston.


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