Teaching kids how to innovate is the ultimate in job preparedness.
By Alexis Glick, CEO, GENYOUth
Anyone whose work involves caring about the welfare of young people can’t help but view the changing nature of work and employment with concern. I’d venture to say that the work world into which students are graduating high school and college is far more challenging and complex now than that of my generation. But I wonder how many of us realize just how challenging it is.
The trends, forces, and economic realities confronting against our students are numerous, and as someone who’s spent years as a journalist covering the market, here’s my take…
Globalization has done plenty of good things in terms of creating new markets, but it multiplies by an order of magnitude the competition for jobs and other opportunities that young people face.
The disappearance of the concept of lifetime employment in companies, and the rise of the gig economy, are eroding the sense of employment security that workers in previous generations took for granted.
Young people lucky enough to find full-time employment in corporations and small businesses discover that things like retirement pensions and healthcare insurance — not to mention perks like educational benefits or assistance with child care — are far from automatic.
And the decades-long, some would say fully mature, trend toward offshoring has in many industries effectively outsourced to other countries everything from manufacturing to call centers.
It’s no wonder that employment for young Americans is declining sharply — more sharply than for any other age group, according to a Brookings Institution report.
To those of us in the business of preparing youth for successful lives after school, all of this points to the need to cultivate innovation and entrepreneurialism on the part of our students — innovation to give them a sense of their ability to solve real world social problems, and entrepreneurialism to build their ability to found and build their own enterprises, and lessen their dependence on an ever-declining job market.
For the past five years, the organization I lead, GENYOUth, has offered AdVenture Capital (AdCap), a program that inspires, empowers and motivates creative and curious student entrepreneurs to use their big ideas to make changes in school and community health and wellness. With AdCap, students get funding to implement solutions around nutrition, physical activity, and overall wellness that they themselves conceive, pitch, and develop.
Five years of data from this program gave us the insights to “scale-up” AdVenture Capital in the form of a national Challenge. The AdCap Challenge, will expand student and school reach offering more students than ever the opportunity to tackle pervasive issues that affect their health and wellness — issues that also impact our partners. From the likes of pizza great Domino’s to tech giant SAP to agricultural leaders including Corteva Agriscience, Land O’ Lakes and the National Dairy Council, our partners, like us, recognize that it’s imperative to involve young people to help inform how their businesses could and should evolve to address issues — like food insecurity, food waste and sustainability, recycling, upcycling, the need for clean water, dependency on technology and stewardship of the land. More than that, students can and will play an instrumental role in defining the future of industries as we know it as the employees of the future.
With those very issues in mind, the AdCap Challenge is a team-based opportunity for high school students that will not only help students develop workforce readiness and vitally needed “soft” skills but provide opportunities for them to receive cash funding to bring their ideas to life, in the form of scholarships and serious prize money.
There’s nothing brand new about encouraging innovation and entrepreneurialism among students. Some educators even feel that the old “STEM” (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) curriculum should be revised as “STEEM,” to include entrepreneurship — a curriculum that would encourage divergent thinking, create safe spaces for new ideas, cultivate resourcefulness, flexibility, creativity, and focus, and provide experiences that let kids both fail and succeed at innovative business ideas. We’re confident that The AdCap Challenge will do ALL of that and more.
But most importantly, it will elevate student innovation, student-led solutions and their voices to allow them to share insights directly with companies that are posing Challenge Questions, and might one day hire these forward-thinking young people.
Addressing our community’s, our nation’s, and our world’s toughest social and environmental problems isn’t easy. But it’s also possible when our brightest young people put their minds to it — with the help of programs like The AdCap Challenge. It’s all about tapping into youthful ingenuity, turning teams of students loose to find solutions, and then rewarding them for it!