Students of higher education are in a rut. As they head toward careers, many find themselves treading the well-worn path of so many students before them as they select the right major, secure a good internship, and obtain the appropriate recommendations, all of which will (hopefully) insert them into their dream job. The problem: there are not enough jobs to accommodate the rapidly growing number of graduates.
Entering an established industry is logical, but when jobs are unavailable, new graduates may have to consider creating their own opportunities. This approach to finding a job is difficult for many because it is not what they have been trained to do. Today's traditional educational system teaches students how to perform a job that already exists. While that is important, current practices fail to encourage broad and creative thinking.
Students need instructors who teach them to develop the mindset of an entrepreneur. Let me note that "entrepreneur" is not defined here as narrowly as it would be traditionally. I do not propose that every student should start their own business, because I realize that is not appealing or realistic for many. Using this broader definition, teaching students to think like an entrepreneur means helping them understand the value of taking ownership and growing any job, whether created by them or an established position. This includes thinking about how to improve results for clients, how to establish themselves as an industry leader and certainly how to think creatively about the best and most efficient ways to do their job. These students become profit centers for themselves, creating business and results proactively. When students are taught to think this way, they quickly see that the more they put into their work, the more they gain in the form of opportunities created.
If education would move away from teaching students to simply memorize existing information, and instead teach creative thinking and problem solving, our workforce would be full of people who worked toward becoming individual profit centers. I wholeheartedly believe that this idea applies to all realms of education, but let me give you an example from my own experience. As the National Division President of The Chef's Academy, the culinary division of Harrison College, I see students come into our school with a passion for food and drive to be the best chef and restaurateur. Many want to open their own restaurant or catering business. Instructors are eager to share their knowledge, but throughout my experience, I have realized how foolish it is for us to focus solely on food preparation and restaurant management skills. Though a vital part of their education, it is not our goal to have students leave our school having memorized 1,000 ways to cook a chicken. Rather, we teach students to solve problems, to adapt and adjust when needed. Our goal is to help students not just fill a role, but to own it. With this attitude, students can take an entrepreneurial approach to any job.
Educators must facilitate critical thinking and improvement within the classroom. As an educator myself, I understand that the responsibility resides with me and the instructors at The Chef's Academy to help students apply the information they are learning to real life, which includes getting out and engaging with the community and our industry.
Perhaps the greatest mistake we make in higher education is allowing learning to end when students leave the classroom. Often, students are lectured on ideas and the only examples they see are past problems that have already been solved. When instructors facilitate engagement outside of school, for instance in a community cause, they give their students the opportunity to observe real life examples of what they have been taught and to challenge classroom learning. The context provided can be an inspiring force as students make career decisions, including the way they approach their own jobs.
It is critical that teachers are continually developing and asking their students the right questions. Better questions will obtain better answers, and part of this quest to create better questions is allowing mistakes to occur in the learning environment. Mistakes encourage processing and strategizing ways to solve and correct the problems in a safe environment, which means that fewer errors will be made outside the classroom and on the job. It is important to understand that great opportunities come out of chaos and failure, and students and educators cannot be afraid of this unknown. Educators must allow students to explore the possibilities that may not work, rather than jumping in with an accepted, but maybe undeveloped answer.
As critical thinkers are encouraged and created, entrepreneurial employees and innovation naturally follow. Imagine the improvements our nation will see as well-taught graduates enter the workforce with a spirit of entrepreneurship and ownership. As our students study and invest their time and energy into obtaining a degree, let us not forget that along with that degree, we want to provide them with the right kind of education.
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