In 2009 I found myself unemployable after working 25 years for the same company as an executive in entertainment business management. My resume was filled with examples of my ability to manage multiple projects at once. I enjoyed the day to day operations of a business while also pursuing my passion for supporting youth. I had even accomplished the personal goal of writing, and publishing a book.
To me, I had so many hard skills. Not to mention soft skills like critical thinking, creative problem solving, and my self-starter “decide and do” personality. But none of these fit into the narrow descriptors of resumes and applications. What was I missing? A college degree. It didn’t matter what type, only that I didn’t have one. But in my mind, I already had a Masters Degree in Follow Through. So while I had measurable skills, without a degree, I was unemployable.
So, what are employers looking for now? Skills. Especially ones that answer the question “How can you make me money and solve my problems?” I’ve heard from countless employers and HR directors about the number of job seekers lacking business acumen and skills. Many college graduates I spoke with felt duped, having attended college and acquired a degree, only to find themselves unemployable and lacking skills. They’re making minimum wage and those hefty tuition debt payments are now due. And that college degree...many college graduates don’t even use their degree. They are working in completely unrelated fields and still paying down debt, sometimes in excess of $150,000. This doesn’t even account for the rate of dropout students.
My research propelled me into action, without too much thought and very little planning. I did what I do best: hustle! Launching a retail brand provided the components to offer students hands-on experience in business operations, business development, product development, logistics, supply chain, and public speaking. In the fall of 2017, with three high school students I mentored, we test-drove our concept out of a pop-up tent on a busy sidewalk in Nashville, TN. By the spring of 2018, we upgraded to a stylish kiosk in the same spot and created a roadshow that has taken Alyn Vaughn through IL, IN, MO, KY, TN, TX, MS, AL, GA, FL, SC, NC, and DE two years.
The biggest takeaway has been the response from over 20,000 customers, many of whom are students, parents, educators, employers, and HR directors. They see the benefits of diversified, hands-on learning, even as soon as elementary school. Girl Scouts have been selling cookies for years. Do they know the margins, how the cookies are made, or how to account for the expenses and sales? Alyn Vaughn is much more than a retail brand. It’s an example of how to impact education using entrepreneurship as a tool to teach life, business, and financial skills. Skills that will benefit our youth for life, no matter which career path they choose, or direction in higher education, be it opt-out, vocational school, or college.
The more we find ways to integrate skill acquisition and apprenticeships into curriculums where youth can explore a variety of industries through the rebirth of high school vocational classes and business partnerships that may lead to full-time employment before deciding on the next step in their life, the more empowered our youth will feel. For a high school student less inclined to attend college or vocational school, an apprenticeship could be the difference between poverty and realized potential. It is our hope this relevant message will take root across this country where our joint efforts raise awareness and change takes place through our actions.
Thank you for joining our movement!