By Josh Flanders, NFTE South Florida Development Director
The statistics are staggering: there is a 16.2 % unemployment rate for American youth (ages 16-24), more than twice the national rate of unemployment. Even when young people stay in school, they face mounting debt and dwindling job opportunities. This is where NFTE comes in.
At NFTE, we not only address why some kids drop out (they cannot connect what they learn in school to real-life skills) but we empower them to consider creating a business based on their own interests and talents. Through the NFTE program, kids become inspired to stay in school and plan for a successful life. They become engaged in STEM skills in ways that are deeply relevant to them as individuals – after all, they are pursuing their business idea. Ultimately they become more employable – and as our research shows, they are ahead in critical thinking skills, problem solving skills, as well as speaking and leadership skills.
While the overall employment picture is improving, youth unemployment is still at record highs, especially in Florida. In fact, a young person’s risk of being unemployed is three times higher than that of adults! Kids who have been through the NFTE program “make their own jobs” – starting businesses at nearly 3 times the rate of kids who do not take the NFTE program.
But NFTE cannot succeed without the help from businesses, and one of the most important aspects of our program is getting that exposure to the business community. We have over 200 business volunteers who engage with our students as mentors, classroom speakers and judges for our business plan competitions. We have also developed meaningful relationships with businesses, sharing best practices and providing mentorship opportunities.
Technology has become an especially important tool in our process of connecting NFTE with the business community and world at large. This year, in partnership with Cisco and SAP, NFTE South Florida piloted NFTE’s first international virtual business plan competition. Young entrepreneurs from Miami Edison Senior High School were thrilled to be presenting their business plans recently live via WebEx to a panel of SAP judges who were participating from Mexico and Brazil! We are introducing technology communication tools commonly used in business offices – in the classroom. And the results are amazing and inspiring for everyone involved!
This is just the first step in our plans to help digitize the NFTE experience, from virtual competitions to a virtual classroom that will involve students, teachers, mentors, and volunteers who will be able to interact, share ideas, and further their business acumen.
Now is more important than ever to leverage our business community’s commitment to our future by creating social change in our community and getting their support and cooperation in doing so. Our students need speakers, mentors, and similar support to help them powerfully understand how the world of technology and business links to their life and their classroom, and with the help of our business partners, we are able to make this link happen and affect meaningful change at home in South Florida and across the country.