Education for the 21st Century: Entrepreneurship Meets CTE

Postsecondary & Workforce

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This guest post comes from Henry R. Mack III, chancellor for the Florida Department of Education’s Division of Career, Technical and Adult Education. Views expressed in guest posts are those of the author.

Much has been written about the disconnect between the skills businesses need from workers and the capabilities workers actually possess. This skills gap has troubled educators and employers alike, both nationally and in my home state of Florida. Our career and technical education programs have bridged these gaps and helped students reach economic self-sufficiency quicker than through the traditional university pathway.

While CTE programs are crucial for filling job vacancies, the skills they provide aren’t the only ones sought by employers. In 2018, a report released by CareerSource Florida and the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity identified skills gaps that local industries said were causing thousands of job vacancies, including technical skills like math, computer literacy and workplace-specific competencies. But employers were more than twice as likely to name “human skills” — communication, reliability, leadership and problem-solving — as lacking in the workforce.

This need is expected to continue. According to Harvard University economist David Deming and the World Economic Forum, employers believe the skills they will most desire in workers in 2030 will be mental agility, flexibility, risk propensity and analytical thinking.

In other words, human skills matter to employers just as much as technical skills. Maybe even more.

Florida is committed to restoring these skills to the classroom, not only because they’re valuable to employers, but because they help shape students into well-rounded citizens. All students deserve the chance to learn these skills, but persistent opportunity gaps can prevent that from happening. Educators have found that one of the most effective ways to deliver this instruction equitably is through entrepreneurship education and training, which provides students with the experience-based learning opportunities associated with starting a business.

That’s why this year, for the first time, Florida set aside $1.5 million in leadership dollars from its $75 million allocation from The Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, known as Perkins V, to start new entrepreneurship programs. School districts, technical programs and state colleges are competing for $25,000 to $100,000 grants to bring these programs into their classrooms. The outcome is worth the investment given the potential economic and social benefits of these programs and the opportunity to change the direction of students’ lives.

Take, for example, the work students are doing in Collier County’s middle and high schools through the INCubatoredu entrepreneurship program. Teams identify a challenge in their community, develop a solution, then get that solution in the hands of the right people. At the end of the year-long program, students pitch their ideas to investors with the hope of getting their solution funded. Some teams have created start-ups that continue to function as businesses after the course ends.

The program isn’t about creating the next big thing, however. INCubatoredu and other entrepreneurship programs give students a window into a world that rewards perseverance, adaptability and creativity. They show students that persisting through failure leads to growth and, ultimately, success. And they narrow the opportunity gap that prevents some students from learning the human skills employers so desperately need.

This is the first year of a five-year plan for spending a portion of Florida’s Perkins V allocation on entrepreneurship education, and leaders remain committed to making it a permanent part of the CTE experience.

CTE programs on their own can be mechanisms for overall economic stabilization, along with growth in local and regional economies. By supplementing that instruction with the human skills employers need — and doing so while teaching interdisciplinary entrepreneurial competencies — Florida can ensure that a new generation of graduates will be ready for the jobs of the future.

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