More than 350 Arizona students learned networking skills and competed in business skills challenges at the fourth Junior Achievement “You’re Hired” conference at the Tempe Center for the Arts Thursday.
“They learn a lot of theory in school, but they don’t get a lot of application,” said Nina Omelchenko Munson, University of Phoenix chief of staff. “This provides a safe environment to practice.”
The day focused on a series of small breakout sessions where students networked, pitched business ideas and learned resume writing.
The day provided students a way to not only to compete, but to participate in an adult environment, said Jerry Foster, the chair elect for JA.
Nearly 300 members of the local business community met with students for an hour, first helping them learn how to use small talk and then making small suggestions for interview or networking improvements.
“They’re soft skills, but they’re also life skills,” Foster said. “It’s some of the most important skills they can learn. Even if you’re not good with academics, that doesn’t mean you wouldn’t be good in a creative field like sales or marketing.”
Students were encouraged to speak up, make eye contact, relax and learn to have a conversation, rather than fire a barrage of questions.
“My first networking person said I should stick to asking smaller questions and focus on one topic,” said Nathan Stevens, a Hamilton High School sophomore.
Stevens hopes to attend either Arizona State University or Grand Canyon University to major in business management and eventually open his own business. With the rise of instant messaging, texting and social media, a lot of communication isn’t done in person anymore, said Marcia Wepfer, a JA board member and a senior vice president of Wells Fargo. That’s a problem because students need to use nonverbal cues, such as nodding or making eye contact.
The students were from all grades in high school and came from all over the s tate. East Valley-area participants included Mountain View, Basha, Hamilton, Highland, Valley Christian, Campo Verde, Gilbert, Desert Vista and American Leadership Academy high schools.
“There are freshmen here who say they can’t wait to come back and a few seniors who have been here all four years,” Munson said. “And then you have seniors who say they wish they had heard of this before.”
It’s a sentiment repeated by Jadriene Ellery, a senior at Desert Vista High School in Ahwatukee.
“I wish I had done this before,” she said about the conference. “When you’re in your career, it’s really important knowing how to talk to people without being cookie-cutter.”
Junior Achievement of Arizona, a non-profit, educates students K-12 in entrepreneurship, work readiness and financial literacy. The University of Phoenix will be offering 15-full ride scholarships to the students who participated, the teachers who attended and even the Junior Achievement administration.