OP-ED: Preparing Students for the World Should Focus on Exploring Their Abilities and Their Passions

By Ron VaupelPresident and CEO, Guardian Industries  

The start of the new school year often reignites conversations with other business leaders that our schools are not preparing our students for the working world or higher education. The conversation often focuses on math or science or standardized test scores. 

Standardized tests as a sole measure misses the mark. In fact, I believe there are more fundamental skills that will help our young students prepare for their future. 

What’s needed is real-life, experiential learning that helps students discover their innate gifts and talents, while gaining the economic understanding to leverage those skills in ways that benefit both themselves and others. It is development of an entrepreneurial mindset that helps students recognize opportunities that link to their passions and abilities. Once students understand how they can apply their talents and skills, they can begin to network with others who also benefit from what they have to offer. It’s a classic case of understanding value creation and mutual benefit for themselves and society at large 

The business and education communities should work collaboratively to eliminate barriers and make available the tools that students need to help them develop their personal vision for how they will make positive contributions in the world. And, by reinforcing values such as responsibility and sound judgement, with important economic concepts, they will benefit no matter what path they take in life beyond high school. 

I realize that many school districts, particularly those in Michigan, may be challenged by a lack of resources, teacher shortages, or questions over curriculum requirements in the legislature. However, there are resources available to schools that offer hands-on training for teachers around a principled entrepreneurship curriculum for students.  

One such program that does this is Youth Entrepreneurs (YE)®, an elective course for middle and high school students that is offered in nearly 280 schools across the country, including over 20 schools in the Detroit area. Guardian Industries and my family are passionate supporters of the program and have seen first-hand the incredible value it can create for YE students. 

As just one example of the program, students take what YE educators have taught throughout the year and create their own pop-up businesses for Market Day. Through this initiative, students learn about creating and marketing a business, cost of goods sold, profit and loss, and how to manage it financially. They offer their wares to their fellow students throughout their schools and, at the end of the day, if successful, they keep the profit they earned 

Knowing what you’re good at — what you’re passionate about — and learning how to make contributions that make life better for others is the roadmap to success. YE educators recognize the strengths of their students and empower them to succeed with realworld experience. And while some students go on to start their own business, the impact from YE is much greater. Many go on to college or become valuable employees 86% of YE alumni report career satisfaction and the unemployment rate for YE alumni is an amazing 1.5%! 

Don’t take it just from statistics – or from me: what is remarkable is what the students themselves say about the program. Dylan McConnell, a YE alum from the Cornerstone Health + Technology High School here in Detroit, won a grant from YE’s national competition last year.  Dylan will use the funds to improve his apparel business, Heir Customs. 

YE has taught me ways to grow myself, and my business, because it’s not just a class,” says Dylan.  The course allowed me an opportunity to network and use the concepts that I learned in the classroom. It taught me how to budget, apply sound judgment as part of our foundational values and be more customer focused in my planning. Whenever I’m doing something business related, I keep the market in mind, not myself.”  

My hope is that more schools across Southeast Michigan will pursue opportunities with YE and expose more students like Dylan to its value. What fuels my enthusiasm is the passion that gets ignited in these students once they have been exposed to the life-changing concepts that put them in the driver’s seat of their own destiny.  

Whether through YE or other programs, our local businesses and community organizations must continue the hard work to create an environment that enables our students to succeed in today’s constantly changing environment. 

Ron Vaupel is president and CEO of Guardian Industries based in Auburn Hills. 

EDITOR’S NOTE: Youth Entrepreneurs has grown to 25 schools across Southeast Michigan for the 2019-2020 academic year. For more information, visit youthentrepreneurs.org.  

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