Junior Achievement Ottawa teaches business skills to youth
By Tamara Micner
Many of us never learned how to make a budget or prepare for a job interview in school—we had to learn those skills in the real world. That’s one reason Albert Wong, director of Junior Achievement (JA) Ottawa, first got involved with the global charitable organization, which educates young people in entrepreneurship and financial literacy.
The Boston Consulting Group found that JA gets results. Their year-long study, which compared 500 alumni to 5,000 “normal” Canadians, found that JA alumni were more likely to finish school, be employed and save money, were 50 percent more likely to start businesses, and less likely to rely on social assistance.
“When I was going through high school, I had no clue what I was going to be doing, in terms of what I wanted to study,” Wong says. “Growing up, my parents said, ‘Whatever you do, you’re going to university and we think you should do a professional job.’” After studying accounting, he taught English in China for a year, and saw that education was a way to effect positive change.
In the 2015–16 academic year, JA Ottawa, which is part of the Ottawa Network for Education, worked with more than 7,000 students in Grades 5–12 and 300 volunteers from more than 300 schools across all four local school boards (public, Catholic, English and French).
“It’s really an investment in the future workforce,” Wong says. “Economic prosperity will come from our youth, and we have to prepare them with the proper tools and skills so they can thrive and create those jobs.”
JA’s hands-on offerings range from one-day workshops in personal finance and career strategies to the four-month company program, where high school students create and run businesses with mentorship from local businesspeople. In September 2016, JA Ottawa was recognized with a Global Best Award in Norway for successfully integrating the program into the Grade 11 marketing curriculum.
“We’ve found that some students taking marketing are there just because they heard it’s an easy course and they need the marks, and at first they’re pretty disengaged,” Wong says. “But when they come together as a team and choose a product or service, working together, selling, making money, all of a sudden some of them become the most engaged students.”
Ann Morrison, regional vice president, Ottawa East at RBC Royal Bank, has volunteered with JA Canada for more than 15 years, helping run its Economics for Success program in Ottawa middle schools. The one-day workshops give students real-life lessons in budgeting, expenses, interview preparation, and career options.
“I never had any of that when I was younger—that would’ve been so beneficial to me,” Morrison says.
Next, JA Ottawa is branching out. With a referral from their guidance counsellors, company students can now get dual credit through a linkage with Algonquin College’s entrepreneurship and innovation course. This fall, a co-op option will also be available, where for one day a week, company students can build a business together with local mentors. To learn more, visit www.onfe-rope.ca/programs/ja-ottawa.
Tamara Micner is a Canadian journalist and playwright, and former Google communications specialist, based in London, England.