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Changing the course of our future - WE can make a Difference


"Alaska consistently ranks at the bottom in educational performance indicators. For every 50 ninth graders, 31 graduate from high school; 14 go to college; nine return for their sophomore year; and only three receive a degree within six years."
("Making Alaska More Competitive", Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education report April 2008)

We rely on the efforts of the K-U system to address the needs and requirements of our students. Yet these statistics reveal even more needs to be done.

So, what can WE do about it? We have an expectation employees will be ready for the workforce; however, it is one not always met. WE have a large stake in making sure our future employees are skilled and educated in the areas important to our particular sectors.

No kidding - WE can make a difference.

The missing piece, I contend, is the direct involvement of community leaders. WE need to mentor our future leaders before they graduate from high school, before they are ready to enter the workforce, and before they take a different direction in life. WE need to take an active role to encourage our youth, to help them discover their potential, their leadership capabilities, their passions, and their future, and then assist them to prepare accordingly. It can only benefit all of us in the long run.

This type of effort is already taking place. Washington Business Week is a program of the Foundation for Private Enterprise Education, a non-profit 501 (c) (3) organization in Washington State. It incorporates partnerships with high schools, students, higher education institutions, and businesses. Since 1976, over 48,000 high school students have participated in this worthwhile endeavor. This program makes the connection between learning and real-life scenarios. It allows students to 'try on' different career choices and requires the development of critical thinking skills, and building strong leadership characteristics.

Students come from diverse backgrounds, from those that just completed their GED to those who are home-schooled to those enrolled in high schools. They discover many attributes in themselves that were not initially evident, and come away with a sense of accomplishment and future vision. These students take on their roles as seriously as the real-world scenarios. They discover their leadership potential and developing passions, and come away with a new sense of self-confidence and direction.

Students are immersed in 'college life' by staying on a college campus. They live in the dorms, and get a first-hand look at a college environment. They enter as high school students - they leave as confident young adults primed for taking on leadership roles and responsibilities - all in the course of one short week.

The key to the success of this program is the active participation of committed company advisors who are 'on loan' for one week from participating businesses. Their role is tormentor the students, from giving moral support, to guiding stimulating discussions, and allowing students to make their own decisions - and sometimes mistakes. The goal is to simulate a work environment as closely as possible. Advisors are challenged to use their leadership skills and expertise to guide their young entrepreneurs to a winning strategy. This program provides more than what a 'typical' intensive conference or seminar would offer an employee - a chance to try various leadership styles and use their critical thinking skills, an insight into business strategies presented by the leaders of top companies in the region, and a renewed sense of their own leadership capabilities. What is evident in the end is how teamwork and passion translates into leadership, knowledge and creativity, and a continuing desire to learn.

"Leaders recognize that Washington Business Week is a unique opportunity to have a virtual leadership laboratory, an experience usually limited to the most senior people in a large organization. This is a place where one can put to practice mentoring, team building, artful persuasion and other critical skills while learning new ones."
Stan W. McNaughton, President, PEMCO Financial Services

Three career tracks are offered in the Washington Business Week model: a business program focusing on the operation of a company, a healthcare career section, and a construction pathway. All three tracks are based on a 'discovery learning' scenario, requiring all who participate to actively assume a role in the successful outcome of their companies.

The Business pathway includes an 8-quarter 'Biz-Sim' business simulation scenario, the development of a new product and a tradeshow presentation, consideration of ethical dilemmas, and a formal presentation to stockholders. Company members are required to make business decisions on a variety of subjects including production, cash flow, borrowing, pricing structure, advertising and marketing, new product development, and the return-on-investments to shareholders.

The Healthcare pathway includes the creation of a specialized clinic to address a specific health issue, development of a healthcare plan for a chosen health crisis, medical ethics, patient care and healthcare policies, as well as the invention of a new medical product or expansion of a service that specifically addresses the public health crisis of their choosing.

The Construction pathway offers a home building simulation, the development of a new residential or commercial project, a marketing campaign, and a presentation to investors about the new development plan.

It's a 'win-win' scenario for everyone involved in the program. Students gain an understanding of their future potential; company advisors gain insight into their strengths and capabilities as a leader; employers gain not only revitalized employees, but also the added bonus of future leaders to come; the university gains student interest in their campuses and programs; and high schools gain students who now have a better sense of their future and educational requirements thereof.

"The evidence is crystal clear that the state of Alaska needs to improve its performance in educating its youth. As the well-educated baby boomer generation begins to retire, the young population that will replace it does not appear prepared educationally to maintain or enhance the state's economic position. College and career preparation is the fulcrum that will tip this emerging cohort of Alaska youth toward becoming part of the solution or part of the problem." " Making Alaska More Competitive" - ACPE Report April 2008

The Washington Business Week program is a model that could work in Alaska. If WE are at all concerned about the youth of this state, it is time that WE start to take a more active role. WE can make a difference and change the course of our future.

Ann Ringstad is an ASCC Board member who participated in the week-long Washington Business Week program at PLU in June 2008 along with over 200 high school students, 26 company advisors and an army of dedicated interns and program directors. As a company advisor, she experienced the program first-hand, and now encourages ASCC members and businesses to consider participating in this rewarding program in Alaska. For more information, see: www.WBW.org August 2009

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