TIME Entrepreneurs

Here’s the Real Problem With America’s Educational System

FRANCE-EDUCATION-HIGH SCHOOL
Thomas Samson—AFP/Getty Images

Today’s education is training yesterday’s students

Globalization, the automation and outsourcing of jobs, an economy changed by the recession: the U.S. economic landscape is shifting. By necessity, the Millennial workforce is shifting with it to become more entrepreneurial. One example of this is that, according to the annual 2014 Youth Entrepreneurship Study conducted by my company YEC and Buzz Marketing Group, 25 percent of young entrepreneurs started their companies as a result of being unemployed — up from 21 percent in 2011.

Entrepreneurship offers value, especially in this recovering economy. So why aren’t we doing more to support this generation of entrepreneurially minded individuals — 82 percent of whom are interested in starting their own business someday — with more targeted resources, training and practical education that would help them thrive? Whether they are building businesses or working alongside startups, many Millennials still lack the skillsets they need to flourish.

We must prepare Millennials, both at a private and public level, for the intrapreneurship and entrepreneurship opportunities required for success in our changed economy. Based on the results of our survey, the following are some ways we must support this growing trend of people who, out of necessity, desperation or pure desire, are creating companies or becoming leaders in the next generation of business.

Build Public/Private Partnerships

The Internet fundamentally changed business as we know it, and starting a business — or landing a coveted job in any industry — requires that young people have an entirely new set of skills.In order to keep up with the demand for experienced personnel, organizations in the private and public sector must work together to fix the deficit of technical skills and knowledge. However, this is clearly not happening rapidly enough, as evidenced by the 79 percent of our survey respondents who wished they’d been offered a class in coding but never were.

One example of a program successfully filling this gap is P-TECH, the IBM-backed school that helps high school students earn technical associate’s degrees. In districts where public schools alone aren’t ableto offer competitive training in technical skills — such that students are knowledgeable enough to manage, work with, or be on development teams — public-private partnerships like this one are important to better train the next generation of our workforce.

Offer Financial Literacy and Entrepreneurship Education at a Younger Age

Eighty-seven percent of young people expressed their desire to pursue entrepreneurship at some point in their career, according to our survey; however, our K-12 curriculum isn’t currently designed to teach financial literacy or business skills. While organizations like Junior Achievement (JA) educate students in work readiness and provide hands-on experience in financial planning for kids K-12,many of these programs are underfunded, and find it difficult to work within current infrastructures — even in situations where traditional system cannot offer other alternatives.

Eighty-one percent of Millennials admire those their own age who have started businesses, which is whyYEC partnered with JA to institute a national peer-to-peer mentorship initiative matching successful Millennials with high school students in JA’s programs across the U.S. Making entrepreneurship more accessible to students, through mentorship or practical courses, offers them invaluable insight and support.School districts and administrations must work to build consensus among local stakeholders to make programs like JA’s a more widely available reality for students across the board.

Invest in Practical Training

Upon graduating from college, every student should have the skills to freelance or build a business in their field — either because they want to, or because it might be the only job option available. To prepare students for this reality, we need to make entrepreneurship education at the collegiate level successful. It’s clear that people want it — an overwhelming 97 percent of our survey respondents believe that entrepreneurship education is important — yet, of the mere 38 percent that were offered a class, 62 percent said that it wasn’t adequate enough to start a new business post-graduation.

We need to structure those classes, in schools, to be more experiential by utilizing ideas like the ones already working atBabson, where students start a business on day one. A Babson degree is practical and vocational as much as it is about the core pillars of a collegiate liberal arts education. Additionally, we must create opportunities for community colleges to better build long-term, viable ecosystems by finding people to teach trades applicable to local industries.

Get Grads Into Startups

Young Americans don’t just look up to Mark Zuckerberg — they want to work for him: 88 percent said they would like to work for an entrepreneur. Not everyone needs to found a startup, but everyone must be able to think flexibly, creatively and entrepreneurially to succeed in their careers in 2014. Instead, many of our highest caliber students are funneled directly into saturated markets like finance and law.

It’s difficult for startups to recruit the way large firms do, which is why colleges and private organizations must play a role in onboarding their best and brightest into startup opportunities. Initiatives likeVenture for America, which places top grads in startups around the country, are connecting grads to these networks. As VfA founder Andrew Yang says in his bookSmart People Should Build Things, there are hundreds of intelligent and enterprising grads who should be training to create value. We need to give real-world training, and help startups find and cultivate talent, to create an entrepreneurial workforce equipped with real, tangible skills.

The Economy Has Shifted — Education Must Follow or Fall Further Behind

Whether we’re training the next generation of entrepreneurs or entrepreneurially minded individuals, we must ensure our support systems catch up to the current-day needs of America’s workforce — or risk losing our standing as innovators. The rest of the world isn’t going to wait for us to figure that out.

Scott Gerber is a serial entrepreneur, author (Never Get a ‘Real’ Job), TV commentator and founder of Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses. @scottgerber

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