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Big Omaha was fortunate to have Todd Smith, owner of Smith Ventures, speak about economic competitiveness and the critical need to better prepare our next generation of industry leaders, starting early in their education.

SPN sat down with Smith to learn more about how Smith Ventures is seeking to change the educational landscape to “prepare W2 and 1099 leaders of tomorrow,” according to Smith.

Smith hails from St. Paul, Minnesota where he grew up in a family of educators––his mother a former school superintendent, and his father a therapist.  He received a Bachelors Degree and did his graduate work at the University of South Dakota where he also played football for the USD Coyotes. He made his way to Omaha in 1996. He worked at Pitsco Education as its National Sales Manager from 2010 until 2017. From there, he left to dedicate himself full time to his company…Smith Ventures.

Todd Smith

Since then, he has been passionately advocating for “a paradigm shift that mandates an authentic and high-frequency relationship between industries’ strategic plan and their future workforce (K-12) needed to make their stock prices soar.”

“K-12 students want to vet their potential futures (Smart Blue Collar, Innovative White Collar or Entrepreneurship Collar) as often as possible without restraint…students need to court failure…not hide from it,” said Smith. “Industry is not looking for altruistic ways to bolster their strategic plans and stock prices; they are searching for the human capital that fits their culture and future needs and will drive the industry to future answers to unknown questions.”

Smith Ventures aims to partner students with industries to seed the future workforce.

According to Smith, HR managers have consistently reported that only a small percentage of students are entering the workforce with the requisite skills to meet industry needs.  “There is consensus among these managers that the “HOW” of education needs to become the major concern, and the “WHAT” should become the minor concern,” said Smith

Smith believes it is critical to help students vet what they want to do much earlier in their education to avoid losing precious time and money. For example, many students are selecting a four-year college, when a community college or technical school may be better suited to meet their passion, purpose, and career aspirations.

Smith said a multitude of sources agree this type of vetting results in less student debt, saved time, a more resilient generation, and citizens driven more by purpose than by fear.

Smith Ventures endeavors to instill in students that it is not necessary to move to Silicon Valley when local opportunities exist all the way from startups to traditional companies such as Union Pacific.

According to Smith, industries must partner to mine all the students with macro efforts and authentically create micro relationships.

“Students with the greatest number of self-selected career opportunities will be the most productive for the region (IT, Trades, Manufacturing, Robotics, Gaming, Construction or Engineering),” said Smith.

Smith believes such “efforts” that cannot easily show, meet industry success metrics and produce strategic, quick data, will eventually struggle for long-term funding from industry sponsors.

“Funding is so often needed to effect these changes, so buy-in from key constituents is critical,” said Smith.”

Early adopters, as well as post-secondary stakeholders, must be on board in order to shift thinking about how students are educated, how they vet career options and how they develop their own brand.  There is a need to shift prevailing mindsets about enabling students in middle school and high school to self-select their paths.”

In Smith’s experience, industry leaders understand that there is a strong pool of talent among young students, and industries are eager for these changes, but are often unsure of how to identify and attract this talent.  He provided the following ways that he believes regional communities must hold three stakeholders accountable in order to retain homegrown talent, thereby strengthening regional economies:

  1. Industry and Government:  Through financial incentives, access, and authentic relationships, it is incumbent upon employers to make students aware of existing jobs, and what preparation, skills, and degree are necessary to land them.
  2. Post-Secondary Educators:  These stakeholders must engage students in 7th to 12th grades in meaningful conversation about what they really desire in a career and the best pathway to achieve it.  Educators must also do a better job of helping students navigate the process of assessing themselves, their aptitudes, and their prospective industries. They must also leverage the power of learning through and redefining the word failure.
  3. Parents and students K-12:  Parents and students alike must take the initiative to access opportunities around them while exploring their skills and careers of interest – particularly with the multitude of free opportunities and mentors available to them.  Self-awareness and ownership will prove to be this group’s greatest hurdle or its greatest accelerant.

Smith believes that to solve these gaps in the education-to-jobs lifecycle, it is critical to change the paradigm.

“We can’t, as a regional economy, continue to educate in a way that does not yield the desired results,” said Smith.  “Dynamic thinking is needed to get kids connected to industries much earlier than the traditional educational model has done.”

Smith, in sharing what he loves about his work, said: “Ask anyone past the age of 25 if they wish their high school years where filled with expert level mentors, access to authentic industry challenges, whether they were taught that true growth only comes through failure, to embrace one’s chosen path, and whether they recognized that they were created wonderfully and beautifully… and how this type of teaching would have affected them…their answer will be: a more fulfilling career trajectory, being a more secure and aware person, and being closer to their dreams.  This type of opportunity exists for the kids and industries of today.”

Smith went on to add – “If we are not actively searching for and mentoring students’ highest interest and fit areas, we as an ecosystem are going to stagnate in our growth and create a larger gap between the “haves” and “have-nots.”

Part Two of this article will present the details of Smith Ventures’ “efforts with Industries, Post-Secondary and K-12 Districts working together to form a dynamic solution for tomorrow’s industry needs, future small business owners, and students truly owning their future,” said Smith. 

Contact Todd Smith at Smith Ventures for more information: http://smithventures.org/

Article Credit: Silicon Prairie News – AIM