Young Entrepreneurs Academy

By Fran Blackney
Program Manager YEA!

For the past six months, we have been promoting the Young Entrepreneurs Academy, YEA!, to the Central Valley. As expected, it has taken awhile to get the word out, but I’m happy to report that people are listening.

This is the seven month, after school course that teaches high school students how to create and run an actual business or social movement. Clovis Unified and Willow International Community immediately recognized the value of YEA! and joined us in presenting the course.

Two of our three instructors are running their own businesses and the third works with small businesses through his position as manager of Central Valley Community Bank. We are pleased to have Bill Syvertsen of The Tutoring Club, Rick Snow of Snowflake Designs and Rod Geist of Central Valley Community Bank lead the students.

There are three facets to organizing the program. We needed adult volunteers to administer the curriculum and host field trips, monetary sponsorships and of course, the students to apply.

We are humbled by the dozens of business leaders who have stepped forward saying they want to help. “We’ll do whatever you need” has been a common phrase. We’re in the process of assigning the volunteers to fill positions. Since we have so many, we‘re being creative and will be offering extras to the students beyond the assigned curriculum.

Sponsors are stepping up including Central Valley Community Bank, Pelco by Schneider Electric and the Fresno Convention and Visitors Bureau. There are other companies who are including our program in their future budgets. All have said how important this effort is to our economy and see the value of financial support.

Funds will be used for scholarships for the course, investments in the students’ companies, events and field trips and other operating costs. The tuition is low, $395 for a seven month course and most of the work is done by volunteers and the Chamber program manager, so we’re keeping the costs to a minimum.

Our favorite interaction has been with the teachers, parents and students who have reviewed the YEA! program and are excited about its potential. Recently I visited an ROP classroom at a local high school to tell the students about YEA!. The teacher told me how important this program is because students are not getting this type of education any more. Schools have been unable to teach critical thinking and communication skills due to changing curriculum and constant, new regulations. She said she wished her own children could have taken the YEA! course.

We are hearing from more parents who see the value of YEA!. They know their kids need a leg up to compete in the economy. Applications are coming in steadily.

But I have to say, we especially enjoy working with the students. We are visiting classrooms, hosting information meetings and talking to them on the phone or via e-mail. These are the kids who get it. They get that the people who are going to succeed are those who go the extra mile – who work a little harder, who are constantly looking ahead.

Every year, we participate in mock business interviews with students in the CART program. We usually talk to them about their aspirations and how they plan to achieve them. These are great kids, but it seems they are not prepared to face the difficult economy of the future.

It’s not their fault. Education and society have changed. As the ROP teacher told me, schools aren’t teaching as much critical thinking and communication as they used to. Supposedly the new Common Core curriculum is going to address this issue, but it’s not tested.

The advances in technology have impacted our kids. Rather than solving problems through critical thinking or common sense, they just visit the internet. I’ve heard kids say they don’t have to learn to spell because of spell check. And why learn any facts when you can just look them up?

People claim that communication has increased thanks to technology. However, they forget that talking eye-to-eye to someone is far different than texting or e-mailing. Voice inflections, emotion and expression can’t be transmitted via cyberspace.

The most harmful effect on our high school kids is the lack of paying jobs. Thanks to the high unemployment and minimum wage, low and unskilled workers are not being hired. That’s why we call the minimum wage hike the Teenage Unemployment Act. These kids are not getting work experience they need for a successful future.

And employers are noticing. In a recent survey titled Employer Priorities for College Learning and Student Success conducted by The Association of American Colleges and Universities, over 300 employers agreed that “a candidate’s demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly and solve complex problems is more important than their undergraduate major.” Furthermore, applicants must demonstrate ethical judgment and integrity, intercultural skills, the capacity for continued new learning and have oral and written communication skills.

The future economy will depend on having highly skilled workers and entrepreneurs. Every economic prediction is that there will be a great shortage if our schools and institutions don’t start training our students. The students who do step up and obtain that extra training will be the ones to lead the future.

The Young Entrepreneurs Academy course does just that. We will take 24, select high school students and concentrate on entrepreneurship but more importantly, we are going to push them on critical thinking, communication and common sense. The kids who graduate on June 4th 2014 will not be the same who started on November 4th, 2013.

As I have written before, the Clovis Chamber’s focus this year is the upcoming generation of business leaders and entrepreneurs. We are thrilled to have the good fortune to be chosen by the US Chamber to present YEA!. Our efforts will have a direct impact on that generation and the economy and we take our responsibility seriously.

Posted in Blog.

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