Friday, February 27, 2015

Skills development through entrepreneurial training, high school edition.

In Octobre 2014, JCI Winnipeg sent four members to Junior Achievement of Manitoba to volunteer as Business Advisers for their Company Program.

Over a four-month period, Junior Achievement’s Company Program teaches grade 10-12 students how to organize and operate a real business. Volunteers from the local business community work with students to launch and run a small enterprise. This gives students the real-world skills and experience that they need to achieve their dreams of becoming entrepreneurs. In this hands-on program, students learn the risks and rewards of starting a business and how to build positive relationships with the community.

JCI Winnipeg serves as volunteer advisers with PowerUp, a company based out of St. John's-Ravenscourt School. Find them on Twitter @PowerUpJA.

Upcoming Sales Events
Come see all the Company Program teams in action at a sales event.

Word from the President at PowerUp, a JA Company

I've never wanted to study business. I've always been more of a med-school girl myself. Therefore it was my mother who introduced me to Junior Achievement's Company Program – a youth entrepreneurship program within schools – and practically forced me to join. Now don’t get me wrong, JA sounded quite interesting but I had never considered business as a future career. However, my mother thought that it would be a good experience anyways.

The Junior Achievement Company Program allows students to start a business and run it themselves – they pick a product, choose a target market, write a business plan, and advertise just like a real business would. It’s a demanding 22-week program that spans throughout the school year, but it’s also a lot of fun.

I've been with Junior Achievement for three years, and every year I find that I learn something new. My first year, I was a regular company member – no fancy title to my name and little responsibilities. But I also didn't get very much out of the program that year. The fact that I didn't hold an Executive position is less relevant than the fact that I hadn't tried to be very involved in the company. At the start of the year, I had chickened out on the day of elections for VP and CEO positions, backing out of the three spots I had originally planned to run for. Being the youngest member of the company, I had been scared that people wouldn't listen to my ideas or value my opinion. As a result, I pushed myself to the sidelines and remained there for the rest of the program.

I’m not normally a passive person, so with determination I signed up again the following year with the mindset that I would be braver. I refused to be a self-saboteur. On election day, I did run for a position and became CEO of my company. But foolishly, I had believed getting the courage to run would be the most stressful part of the experience. Of course, I was wrong.

My team encountered many hurdles that year and some we didn't jump, but rather stumbled over. Choosing a product was our first obstacle. Should we choose candles, which sell well but lack originality, or should we take a leap of innovation? Our choice in product would determine how the rest of the year would run and was therefore incredibly important. Being CEO, I bore the brunt of making those tough decisions. My year had been riddled with stressful and awkward situations like firing someone because they weren't attending meetings and setting a bad example. But as a result, I learned how to make tough calls and manage bad situations.

The company program also offers many competitions and chances for students to challenge themselves throughout the 22 weeks. My first year, I didn't participate in any, but my second year I made myself step out of my comfort zone. One of the competitions is called the Perfect Pitch Challenge, hosted by Shaw TV. Three student representatives from each team gave a 5 minute product pitch to a panel of judges and then were marked on how effective their pitch was – it was set up to be a bit like Dragon’s Den. Public speaking has always given me a lot of anxiety, so the experience was tough. But it was worth it—my team won and because I had participated, similar future experiences wouldn't be so daunting. Plus, as a reward, being the winners, my team got the unique experience to represent youth entrepreneurs to Prince Charles during his visit last spring.

I started JA in grade 10 and since then, I have learned a lot about business and have made many friends. However, the program has also allowed me to hone my patience and persistence, as well as my ability to communicate effectively with both my coworkers and customers. Networking opportunities are also vast throughout the program. Most of all, I've learned how to overcome my anxious tendencies and take more risks.

I’ll always thank my mother for pushing me to join the program. She was right – it didn't really matter that I wasn't business school bound; I learned a lot of skills relevant to any career path. Though I’m still not going into business next year when I start university, I've definitely gained a fondness for it. I am medical school hopeful and my experiences through the Junior Achievement Company Program will help me get there.

Alice Yu
A Junior Achievement Company

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