Youth Express apprentice Taylor Altendorfer, 16, left, and assistant manager Yeng Yang at Express Bike Shop in St. Paul.
Kids used to want to be baseball players or rock stars. Now they want to be the next Steve Jobs.
According to a Gallup poll released in January, now 43% of students in grades five-12 want to be entrepreneurs, and around the country youngsters are signing up for lessons in business savvy. Almost 60% of students say their school has classes on how to start a business, up from 50% in 2011. Those numbers don’t even include after-school entrepreneur workshops, which are reporting a similar burst in popularity.
The huge popularity comes at a time when the youth unemployment rate is one of the worst on record. January’s unemployment rate for ages 16-24 was 17.6%. A far cry from pre-recession level of 10.9% in January 2007, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Many young entrepreneurs say if they don’t make their own jobs, no one will.
“A lot of kids are just really hungry to work,” says Youth Express enterprise director Randy Treichel, whose St. Paul-based organization’s youth entrepreneurship workshops have become increasingly popular.
His solution: Youth Express runs a bike store, the Express Bike Shop, which employs workshop participants in key roles so they can learn how to run a business firsthand and try out the lessons they’ve learned in the workshop such as determining competitive advantage, understanding supply and demand, calculating gross and net profit and identifying a target market.
“We want them to learn it in the classroom setting and then be able to apply it pretty quickly in the work setting so that lesson really sets for them,” he says. “It’s a type of learning that a lot of young people can get really excited about.”
Amy Rosen, CEO of the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, or NFTE couldn’t agree more. She wants entrepreneurship taught as part of “every career and technical class” in the country. If it’s not, kids risk dropping out of school, she says, citing that high schoolers in the U.S. report only 44% engagement in the classroom, vs. 76% for elementary school students, according to recent Gallup Student Poll results.
“Making the classroom relevant to life and connecting school to opportunity would make them show up,” she says. “They actually start having a life plan, and they connect with the community.”
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