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The Entrepreneurs: Generation Z and CTE

Generation Z, also called the Internet Generation, is growing up fast. Born roughly starting in 1996, America’s youngest generation is a fascinating mix of new and traditional attitudes about work, innovation, responsibility, and loyalty. And one of the more interesting developments we’re seeing is their strong bent toward entrepreneurship.

The Millennials are known for their “side hustles,” small business gigs performed in the evenings or weekends alongside their regular jobs to bring in some extra money and maybe pursue a passion that can’t quite support full-time employment. But the next generation seems to be taking this one step further, with nearly 80% saying they want to be their own boss one day. Independent and innovative, Generation Z is very attracted to the freedom and responsibility of entrepreneurship.

Digital Natives
Much of this drive to break the corporate workplace mold has arisen from this generation’s immersive Internet connectedness. Millennials are digitally savvy, but Gen Z are digital natives for whom the web has always been just a click away. Far from being passive recipients of this wealth of information, they are using it to gain valuable knowledge, discover market needs, and build products and brands around the opportunities they perceive. Peer-to-peer sites and apps have opened up a whole new world of consumers and creators. The stories of teen and even middle-school entrepreneurs making significant profits via their online businesses are becoming more and more common as Gen Z capitalizes on the opportunities our connected world now affords.

This demonstrates what I have believed all along: today’s younger generations have amazing potential, intelligence, and resourcefulness. They’re smart and adaptive, and it’s our privilege to help them make the most of their natural gifts to change the world for the better.

The CTE Opportunity
In my last blog I talked about the ways employers can partner with this up-and-coming generation of innovative entrepreneurs. For the field of career and technical education (CTE), the entrepreneurial aspirations of Gen Z present an exciting opportunity. Gen Z may be on their native turf when it comes to the worldwide web, but they still have a lot to learn. The Gallup.com article I cited earlier says:

Despite their energy and ambitions, the Gallup-HOPE Index findings suggest many students are not getting the education and work experience they need to help achieve their goals. While 87% agree that the more education they get, the more money they will make, far fewer report getting the type of practical knowledge and experiences that will be useful once they are in the workforce.

There are so many ways that CTE programs can benefit the entrepreneur-minded young person today:

  • CTE allows them to explore their interests and talents while in high school, empowering them to discover what they love sooner so they can start preparing now.
  • CTE programs deliver the skills and industry knowledge that can make the difference for a young entrepreneur. Internships, apprenticeships, maker spaces, and other hands-on opportunities are just a few of the ways young people can use CTE to break into their field of interest.
  • Many CTE programs offer student-run enterprises that allow young people to actually work in and manage business environments, where they pick up the knowledge that can only be received through experience.
  • CTE provides experiential learning that takes place both independently and in team contexts, preparing students for entrepreneurial careers that involve lots of work by themselves as well as with others.
  • CTE delivers lifelong marketable skills that can help Gen Z get on their feet financially and fund their independent business ventures. Even if their CTE program is not in the field they want to ultimately pursue, a lifelong marketable skill is a valuable asset in the uncertain realm of entrepreneurship.

With contextualized learning, hands-on experiences, high-demand focus areas, and opportunities for self-discovery and development, CTE is clearly poised to meet the pressing need of entrepreneur-minded students. Now is the moment to share a simple truth: CTE gives you the tools to be your own boss. Let’s get that message out there to inspire the next generation of movers and shakers.

About the Author
Mark C. Perna Mark C. Perna is a best-selling author and the founder of TFS in Cleveland, Ohio, a full-service strategic consulting firm whose mission is to share and support every client’s passion for making a difference.

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