Angela Miceli is a business and technology teacher at Holy Trinity High School in Chicago, Illinois.
How can we, as educators, adequately prepare our students for the mysterious future of work? The jobs and careers we know today will either be gone or redesigned by the time current students join the workforce. It is our job to prepare young people to thrive and achieve their goals, but when the target is forever moving and technology seems to be taking over, how can we ensure their success?
The solution is actually very basic and has been around since the beginning of time: we need to nurture the entrepreneurial mindset. This is a set of skills that enables people to identify and make the most of opportunities, overcome and learn from setbacks and succeed in a variety of settings.
Back in the day, the entrepreneurial mindset may have been referred to as “soft skills,” but those skills are anything but soft. They are the foundation for our students’ success both in school and in the workplace. We seem to have lost focus over the past several years, but the entrepreneurial mindset is back in fashion and more important than ever.
First, let me identify the principle components of the entrepreneurial mindset as defined by the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, a nonprofit that teaches business and academic skills through schools and community partners.
- Communication and collaboration
- Creativity and innovation
- Critical thinking and problem solving
- Future orientation
- Opportunity recognition
- Comfort with risk
- Initiative and self-reliance
- Flexibility and adaptability
As you can see, none of these characteristics are business-specific, but are rather everyday necessities. Having an entrepreneurial mindset is useful whether or not you want to start your own business. Where will our students be if they are unable to communicate effectively? What if they cannot identify a problem or solve one on their own? With technology taking over jobs across all industries, our students will not have jobs if they cannot be creative and innovative. So how do we ensure that our students will be successful after they leave our classrooms?
It is easier than you might think—"think" being the key word here. We need to force our students to think outside their comfort zones. We need to encourage our students to get it totally wrong in a very safe environment. We need to teach the entrepreneurial mindset in our classrooms.
That sounds difficult and scary, right? It is actually quite achievable with a project-based approach that introduces the entrepreneurial mindset in a fun and practical way. This is my seventh year of implementing the NFTE curriculum in my classroom at Holy Trinity High School in Chicago. Each year it gets better and better. I promise the class that everything they do and every assignment they are given is for a purpose. If they don’t see it immediately, they will by the end of the class. This pact creates mutual trust between us.
STEM + business
At Holy Trinity, we have a four-year, B-STEM honors program that adds business to science, technology, engineering and math. Throughout this program, students are introduced to the practical side of their STEM courses by incorporating business into the mix.
Freshmen and sophomore one-semester courses cultivate the entrepreneurial mindset through local competitions. Then, junior year is a year-long class combining the NFTE curriculum with corporate experience. Holy Trinity was the first high school in Chicago to create a program with paid summer internships at a variety of for-profit companies and nonprofit organizations in Chicago. Students in this junior-year course are eligible to interview for these internships, and this program has enjoyed success for the past 25 years.
Senior year provides a variety of choices, including a five-step design-thinking process class, introduction to engineering and technology courses. As a result, all of what is taught in the B-STEM program contributes to the development and application of the entrepreneurial mindset.
Our students have experienced financial success through the program by winning top prizes in national competitions, such as the 2019 NFTE Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge, the 2018 World Series of Entrepreneurship, the World Series of Innovation and Fuel Up.
In addition, students have participated in consecutive years of paid internships in which they earned personal money as well as scholarship opportunities. But the best reward is when they come to me to share what they did in their internships and how the components of the entrepreneurial mindset prepared them for success.
Skills in demand
At the NFTE 2019 Teacher Summit, a panel of business professionals shared the skills they are looking for in new hires. Representatives from Citi, PayPal, SAP, Intuit, and Ernst & Young all said the same thing: they are looking for young people with an entrepreneurial mindset. These companies can train them technically but, from the start, young people need to be able to communicate effectively, collaborate with teammates, identify and solve problems, plan for tomorrow, be flexible and adaptable and take initiative.
Educators, let’s take this opportunity by storm and instill the entrepreneurial mindset in our young people to ensure their success while fulfilling our role as teachers.