The Need for Entrepreneurial Education and Business Incubators
We know the business world our students are entering is different than the ones their parents entered. How should we be equipping our students to compete in a world that requires more entrepreneurial thinking? I believe we should consider an entrepreneurial track that would include an introductory class on the spirit and philosophy behind entrepreneurship followed by the construction of business and action plans that result in an actual startup company. I also believe that documenting this entire learning experience in an ePortfolio will allow students to not only reflect but also serve as a vital part of their career and college resume.
Closing The Skills Gap
As we think about the skills necessary for our students to succeed in today’s modern economy one can’t help but notice an increasing deficit gap. According to research by Northeastern University 73 percent of business leaders believe there is a skills gap among today’s U.S. workforce and 87 percent contend that most college graduates lack the skills critical to success (Aoun et. al, 2014). In agreement Cahill and Jackson state, “over half of young Americans reach their mid-20s without the skills and labor market credentials essential for success as a knowledge worker in today’s economy” (2015).
So why is this gap increasing and how can we help to close it. Some of these skills necessary to succeed used to be acquired by teenagers working part-time jobs. However, the number of young people who are employed has dropped dramatically since 2000. This has led to a skills gap that employers are noting continues to grow (Cahill & Jackson, 2015). We need to provide a place to acquire these traits that are associated with positive entrepreneurial outcomes including self-confidence, creativity, risk propensity, resilience, and entrepreneurial self-efficacy (Boyd & Vozikis, 1994; Luthje & Franke, 2003; Rauch & Frese, 2007; Bullough et al., 2015). It is vital during a time when students are preparing for their futures to provide an outlet where they can cultivate a spirit of innovation and venture creation. This type of education has been noted to inspire students to apply what they are learning and increase self confidence and problem solving. These skills along with an understanding of one’s propensity for risk taking as well as an appreciation for mentoring and networking are in high demand from employers (Russell et al., 2008). Fuchs noted in his research there is a need for not only entrepreneurial education but also what he referred to as wrap-around services. “Such services might include mentoring, networking, public speaking, workshops (e.g., taxation, business registration), alumni networks, or business incubators, which encourage networking, referrals, and cross-generation learning. Creating linkages among students and their local communities through networking events also might help new entrepreneurs generate customers, supply chain partners, cost-saving options, and resources” (as cited in Bullough et al., 2015).
Marrying Theory With Action
We need to first build an understanding in our students of entrepreneurship itself. As Fiet states, a theoretical basis is important because it gives the participants guidance in what they should do instead of only describing what other entrepreneurs have done (as cited in Gielnik et. al 2013). While we need to start with the theory and building a business plan, we need to carry entrepreneurship education even further. Scholars have noted that many entrepreneurship trainings put a strong focus on developing a business plan but lack a method that involves active engagement by the participants (Honig, 2004; Pittaway, Missing, Hudson, & Maragh, 2009). Active engagement involves actually performing the start-up activities not just reading about them (Gielnik et. al 2013). Entrepreneurs, who have the goal intentions to start a new business, are more likely to initiate and maintain entrepreneurial action when they complement their goal intentions with action plans (Frese, 2009; Frese & Zapf, 1994).
Since we know actually starting a business will enhance the creation of skills necessary to close the gap in student preparedness noted by businesses, we should lead them through an action plan that results in creation of their own small business. It has been shown that developing action plans helps people to stay on track even when faced with distractions, and they are thus more likely to persistently pursue their goal intentions (Locke & Latham, 2002). In order for students to be successful in their start-up we need to help them specify the substeps and operational details to accomplish these action plans. Frese laid out a launch sequence in his 2009 research. The pre-launch phase is where the entrepreneurial team will assemble all the necessary resources. During this phase students will have to be proactive to convert their long term wishes into intention via OTIUM (opportunity, time, importance, urgency, and means). The opportunity will be identified and evaluated. The time and means for the launch will need to be assembled. They will spend this phase defining the importance and urgency of each activity as they encounter the inevitable roadblocks of constructing their new business. This is followed by the launch phase which is characterized by the starting of the organization, the first sale and the problem solving necessary to evaluate and overcome obstacles of a new business. This phase is also characterized by setting short and long term goals to assess the viability and growth of the new business as well as dealing with diverse and often conflicting demands (Frese, 2009). We need to find a way to allow students to follow these substeps to create an actual business so they will reap the rewards of the entire process.
Documenting The Process For Future Gain
We also need to find a way to make all of this learning visible to potential employers and college admissions offices. While these classes will appear on the student’s’ transcripts, that will be insufficient to encompass the scope of the learning and skills they acquired. This is where we need to leverage the power of the internet and their individual digital footprints. Chatham-Carpenter, Seawel, & Raschig noted “ePortfolios not only provide an avenue for authentic reflection, they also provide students with a means of demonstrating their skill set, education, and relevant experiences” (2009). These ePortfolios should be instituted from the beginning of the entrepreneurial education. Students will use develop as “self-authors” connecting their businesses and course knowledge while engaging in an on-going self-reflection and peer review processes (Fitch et. al 2008). This type of portfolio-based learning occupies the highest form of knowledge and skill integration (Anderson, Krathwohl, & Bloom, 2001). Students will demonstrate the development of their professional skills while creating their emerging professional identities (Fitch et. al 2008).
Filling The Gap
We need to find way to close the gap between what businesses need and what our current educational system offers. One way to accomplish this is through entrepreneurial education. The research emphasizes the need for both a theoretical focus as well as actually creating a business. Through this process we can highlight the students growth and professional identities through the use of ePortfolios. This learning environment that allows students to acquire, demonstrate and reflect upon the professional skills needed for future success fills a vital gap in our existing educational system and should be implemented wherever possible.
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