Keeping young talent in the Valley


By Timothy M. Stearns and Genelle Taylor

Thomas Friedman recently challenged the Obama administration to “launch his own moon shot”. The author of the book “The World Is Flat” extended his challenge in a column he writes for the New York Times titled “More (Steve) Jobs, Jobs, Jobs, Jobs”. The moon shot he is referring to is the creation of a more entrepreneur-friendly environment that would launch a million new start-up companies that create lasting jobs rather than temporary jobs that won’t build a strong economic base far into the future.

Of note, Friedman suggests that the president makes a commitment to launch the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) to every community in America. NFTE has been actively engaged in training teachers who deliver entrepreneurship curricula to middle and high schools globally for over 20 years. It is projected that NFTE will reach 55,000 young people in 2010 who will learn how to create and deliver products to the market while practicing the art of entrepreneurship. Without doubt, NFTE is building the foundation for the future economy of the United States in light of the poor prospects for jobs from corporate America.

So here is the good news. The Lyles Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship has been actively building out NFTE programs in 12 schools with the ambition of having the curricula in every middle and high school in the Central Valley. In the past four years, the Lyles Center has had over 650 NFTE students complete the program.  Each student who participates in the program has the opportunity to invent a product or service, develop a business plan, present it before a panel of judges and if the student wins the competition, will go to New York City to compete with 30 other finalists for a grand prize of $10,000.

The Lyles Center is committed to this program because it works. Students who have lost interest in school suddenly find the value of learning math so they can understand the cost of a unit to be produced. Immediately, NFTE students have an improved attitude towards school, a sense of self-efficacy and improved education and career aspirations.  These students learn the value of entrepreneurship, they learn financial literacy and they gain skills in public speaking.  This all leads to improved attendance, behavior and test-taking as well as higher GPA/test scores and higher rates of graduation.  Long-term, the majority of NFTE students are either gainfully employed or have started their own business. 

If Fresno and the Central Valley are going to have any hope of prospering in the future, we as a community will have to embrace entrepreneurship. Attracting companies to move to our region is not going to work. Hoping the talent we have sent off to college is going to move back without opportunity is not going to happen. Keeping young talent in the Valley is going to be impossible if we don’t provide alternative ways to be successful than the normal path of pursuing a job through application.

Frankly, the traditional path of getting an education, applying for and accepting a job that will last for a life time is over.  Baby boomers still believe it to be true because it worked when they were young (well at least until lately). Young adults recognize that the promise of working hard, getting a good education, and finding a job that leads to success is no longer realistic. If we fail to educate our youth on how they can pursue the American Dream through self-employment, our region will continue to lag missing out on the next wave of prosperity that is likely to come.

NFTE Central Valley needs the support of the community in order to reach its goal of providing such great opportunity for the students of the Valley.  On May 20, 2010 the NFTE Central Valley Regional Business Plan competition will be held to showcase the talent of our youth and to crown the winner that will go on to compete nationally in New York.  If you would like to be there to cheer these students on or learn more about NFTE and how you can become involved, visit www.lylescenter.com or contact the Lyles Center at 559.294.2045. 

Dr. Timothy M. Stearns is the Executive Director and Genelle Taylor is the Associate Director of the Lyles Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at California State University, Fresno.

http://www.fresnobee.com/opinion/valley_voices/story/1802586.html

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