An event designed to enhance students’ business acumen, soft skills and workforce readiness recently brought together more than 300 Greenville high school students and 40 business representatives at the Greenville Convention Center.
The Junior Achievement Executive Challenge was designed by Junior Achievement of Upstate South Carolina. Junior Achievement groups work to provide young people the knowledge and skills they need to own their economic success, plan for their futures, and make smart academic and economic choices, according to the organization’s website. Working closely with the business community, Junior Achievement of Upstate South Carolina fosters workforce readiness and soft skills among local students.
The Executive Challenge provided high school students with presentation and networking experience with business professionals from a variety of local industries. The students were given opportunities to pitch themselves to companies and find out what companies were looking for in their future workforce. Participating companies included Wells Fargo, Corley Plumbing Air Electric, Fluor Corp., Renewable Water Resources and ECPI.
“This is the first time for Junior Executive Challenge. And as far as we know, this is an original event,” said Connie Lanzl, president of Junior Achievement of Upstate South Carolina. “The issue in the Upstate is all about workforce development. It’s fine for us to give kids that knowledge but how do they practice it? This is an opportunity for businesses to interact directly with kids. To be able to tell them what they look for when hiring and to dispel some misperceptions.”
Various trades were represented at the event, including engineering, manufacturing and banking. Chris Corley, founder of Corley Plumbing Air Electric, said his participation in the event was twofold — to address a stigma of the trades and to explain the successful careers available in trade fields.
“A trade occupation has been seen as a last-ditch job. If you can’t do anything else you can always be a plumber,” he said. “This isn’t the case.
“We talk about plumbing, electrical and HVAC as trades you can learn, get training with little to no debt, and have a career that would pay above the average from the standpoint of other career fields you would have whether you go to college or not,” he said. “It is a career that no matter where you are, you can use — whether in Greenville or Seattle Wash., people need us.”
Corley said that for every three tradesmen retiring out, there’s only one coming in.
“We’ve got demand, and it’s not just us,” he said.
As for participating in an event like the Junior Achievement Executive Challenge, Corley said he enjoys connecting with the students and to see what he calls the “wow” moments.
“At this age most of them have no idea what’s next. This helps give them options that don’t include going to college,” he said. “I’m not against college, I just know it’s not for everybody.
“In a lot of careers, you can get trained by the company and have something with you for life and not have that debt.”
While hard skills are often listed on resumes, studies prove that soft skills such as effective communication, problem-solving and collaboration may be even more valuable. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, 92% of senior executives believe there is a serious gap in workforce soft skills. Junior Achievement partners with local professionals to teach students the importance of developing interpersonal skills. The Junior Executive Challenge offered an opportunity for businesses to interact directly with students, providing personalized information about their work environment, their careers and what they look for and expect from new employees.
“We are proud to participate in the Junior Executive Challenge,” Jennifer Sutton, founder and CEO of Bright and Co., said in a news release. “While many high schools focus on college readiness, workforce readiness is often overlooked.”
Sutton also said Junior Achievement encourages high school students to discover other routes to success.
“Keep getting involved in Junior Achievement,” South Carolina Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette told the students. “They’re going to teach you the things that, as a business owner, I’ve looked for over the last 20 years.”
Evette is founder of QBS in Greenville. She also participated in Junior Achievement in school.
“I hired people at QBS that had an entrepreneurial spirit, and what that meant is that I knew that they could articulate what they wanted to say. That they had great customer service and they knew how to reach out, too. I knew they would treat their position, whatever it was, as if it was their own.
“Those are the people in my company that kept thriving.”
The lieutenant governor said that while colleges and technical colleges “teach you what you need to know for the position you want,” Junior Achievement mentors can share the best-kept secrets on how to be successful in the business world. “So lean on them,” she said.