How to Give High School Students Real-Time "Entrepreneurial" Career Experience

Last week, the Wall Street Journal's The Juggle blog published a post entitled, The Upside Down Job Market, that talked about how high school students are being shut out of traditional entry level opportunities because seniors are taking the jobs. My initial reaction to the post was, "Well, it looks like high school students will be forced to become much more entrepreneurial about how they find a job."

Shortly thereafter, as if the universe read my mind, fellow Bucknellian, David Ledgerwood reached out to tell me about a new conference he's launching with a Bucknell teaching legend, Dr. John Miller. For 30 years, Dr. Miller was the genius behind one of the school's most popular courses, Management 101. The class gave students real-time experience creating and running a business. Now, through his consulting group, TernionM and the "Managing Ourselves" conference series, Dr. Miller is bringing his unique approach to experiential learning to high-potential high school students. In other words, Dr. Miller wants to teach high school students to be more entrepreneurial in how they think about and perform on the job.

I recently had a chance to talk to Ledgerwood about the "Managing Ourselves" conference series which kicks off this summer July 17-23, in Nashville, TN. Here are some highlights ...

Cali Yost: How did the idea for the conference evolve? What makes it unique?

David Ledgerwood: As you know, thousands of students benefited from Dr. John Miller's experiential teaching methods during his career at Bucknell University. Dr. Miller founded TernionM and began the Managing Ourselves Conference for high potential youth leaders to bring the experiential teaching methods to a younger audience, essentially beginning the teaching and learning cycle years earlier than was possible in a college setting.

Dr. Miller talks about managing ourselves (the concept) as "the primary challenge of our times." In the messy business of forming and managing an organization, no one performs perfectly every time and from that imperfection springs ripe opportunities to learn. The unique idea of this conference is that developing the ability to reflect on and to learn from our choices in real time enables us to gain insights that lead to better decision making next time.

What skills do you hope the high potential high school students participating in the conference learn and how do you think those skills will pay off down the road?

We hear from managers how frustrating it can be when new hires, and even organizational veterans, just can't connect the dots in terms of what drives high (or, in some cases, even functional) organizational performance. Our curriculum will help students understand the roles that communication, accountability, planning, quality measures, critical thinking and problem solving actually play within an organization and how they positively--or negatively--affect organizational cohesion and results.

It's important that we teach students to learn from their own experiences as they happen. That it's not just a private phenomenon, though we do encourage private reflection. Group discussion (i.e., storytelling) plays a prominent role in the learning process. It's a desirable trait to have excellently honed leadership skills and we're hoping to pair that with equally well-honed management skills.

Students will learn how to operate under time, resource and budget constraints, while staying in tune with the demands and desires of internal and external stakeholders like employees and stockholders in for-profit ventures, or volunteers and patrons in social ventures. They'll learn how successful management is a delicate balance of social, political and economic motivations and how over- or under-focusing on one of the three can endanger the organization.

What's your vision going forward for this conference? How can parents, leaders and businesses help (and benefit)?

By 2016, our plan is to offer more regional versions of the conference to ensure that an even more diverse group of students can experience how organizations are built and optimized. Ultimately we hope to staff each Managing Ourselves conference with alumni from previous conferences so we can create a self-sustaining model.

Right now stellar 16- and 17- year old candidates should apply at managingourselves.com without delay because we've only got 60 seats available and we've opened applications to a nationwide audience.

It's becoming very expensive for major corporations to attract and keep top talent. Firms often start cultivating internship candidates early in their college careers. Our conference network and scholarships give them a unique way to make and keep a deeper connection with talented youth over time. Business leaders who want to engage and support high potential youth should consider underwriting branded scholarships. This will give them exclusive access after the conference to participate in the private Managing Ourselves social network and community, that will include current and future conference attendees as well as a broad range of alums from Dr. Miller's teaching career.

I know how powerful Dr. Miller's curriculum can be. And I'm encouraged that high school students won't have to wait until college to be exposed to these skills, especially since they face a job market that increasingly requires them to make their own opportunities. Good luck!

Readers, what do you think? How do we need to prepare young people to succeed in a new career landscape where many of the old rules no longer apply and traditional careers paths no longer exist?

Did you find this post helpful? If so, I invite you to join me on my Work+Life Fit blog and on Twitter @caliyost.

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