About Big Ideas USA
A note from our founders
Big Ideas, Inc.’s mission is to provide opportunities for students, ages 13+ to discover, explore, and learn real-world trade skills. Teaming with existing professional tradespeople, industry shops and staff, and community education systems, we provide the model and structure for courses providing practice of both the hands-on technical skills as well as the soft skills needed to succeed in a trade. For our purposes, the trade careers we support are defined by the following: they require specialized knowledge, provide a competitive salary, offer readily available career opportunities, provide a career path for progression of professional, financial, and personal growth, and do not require a university degree.
We propose that today’s younger generations lack opportunities and alternatives for exploratory play. Lack of exposure to the activities and pastimes of our grandparents’ generations has enabled over-emersion in electronic devices and over-scheduling in activities that do not allow the discoveries of free play. Current economies of urban families allow neither space or time for tinkering with spare lumber, old push mowers, or broken lamps. This modern disassociation leaves youth without exposure to basic trade skills and therefore little awareness and interest in potential careers. Furthermore, since the GI Bill (enacted 50+ years ago), societal pressure to gain university degrees and pursue white collar careers has increased. More recently, public school systems facing budget cuts have reduced or eliminated many trades courses. Those still offering these curricula have difficulty hiring trades and consumer sciences teachers. The absence of exposure to trades skills both at home and in school systems has caused a loss of real-world trade skills in the employment market.
Big Ideas, Inc. licensed courses and clubs are designed for today’s busy families. They are formatted to create a close approximation of “grandpa’s shop” and “grandma’s kitchen” where learners can create a useful, take-home project while enjoying a local, economical, and small class. Although all courses and clubs are introductory level only, courses are tiered in progressive difficulty. All classes are designed to provide a student with the chance to connect with a pro and “test drive” a trade before committing fully to further education or a career change.
Our BIPartner Instructional Model provides collaboration between industry, professional tradespeople (as instructors), education systems, and organizations (such as 4-H), to bridge the interest and the talent gap in the skilled trades. Through this alliance, we provide the system and support for introductory courses providing practice of both hands-on technical skills as well as enhanced knowledge of soft skills needed to succeed in each trade. Upon conclusion of the class series, our departure packet includes the next steps to explore opportunities for further education, funding for both education and training, and training and employment opportunities. Industry-specific employment and salary data are also provided.
“Far and away, the best prize life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”
In 2016, after watching their two oldest children and friends approach their senior year of high school and consider their futures, Rebecca Fliszar and Mary Ann Christensen had four convergent realizations
Scarcity of Tradesmen: Fliszar and Christensen noticed longer wait times for home service and repair professionals to become available. Popular press began to report the ‘looming’ shortage of tradespeople as the median age of the industry was increasing and the number of apprentices to fill these positions was decreasing.
Lack of Opportunity for “Dabbling”: With society's shift from the farm and labor-based occupations, opportunities for all ages to engage in experiences that would create interest in trades had diminished. Fewer local youth helped their parents do repairs around the house, work on cars, build structures, or make meals.
These observations inspired the big idea for Big Ideas, Inc. They envisioned recreating "grandpa's shop" and “grandma’s kitchen.” This would generate opportunities for youth to learn to use basic tools such as a tape measure, hammer, and saw. I would allow a chance to experience how an engine works, basic electricity circuits, soldering, welding, grinding, and greasing.
By December of 2017, Christensen and Fliszar agreed to unite to provide the opportunity for students of all ages to explore skilled trades. They interviewed teachers, education administrators, realtors, building center staff, tradesmen and women, business owners, industry leaders, psychologists, and community college and university staff as part of the business’ design process. With the input of these experienced individuals, Big Ideas, Inc. was formed.
Providing Opportunities to Discover, Explore, & Learn Real-World Trade Skills for Ages 13+ --Big Ideas, Inc. Mission Statement
As an IRS certified 501c3 (not-for-profit) organization, Big Ideas, Inc. is committed to a streamlined and efficient organizational structure. It is essential to long term operations to optimize both finances and time and is vital to have sustainable and repeatable governance. Big Ideas, Inc. Board of Directors is composed of trades and education professionals with the specific insight needed for effective administration. G.A.A.P accounting procedures are practiced, and the business plan is continually modified as more BIPartnerships are formed and as our model evolves.
Providing proven curriculum and course outlines, we utilize existing industry and school facilities to hold classes and professional tradespeople as instructors to provide a high quality, turn-key introductory course progression. The syllabus integrates discussions of the technical skills, as well as the soft skills necessary to succeed in the chosen trade businesses.
Courses are designed to offer small class-size, be economical, and to provide easy and close access for participants who juggle busy schedules. Courses are offered as one, two, and four-night options. Each class is approximately two hours. Students are provided almost immediate, hands-on interaction with projects and they receive the tangible and intangible reward of taking home a useful, high-quality product that they make.
In addition to our more traditional hands-on courses, we also invest in virtual reality (VR) technology for mobile programming. This technology is not the low-tech simulators we have seen in the past: the only technology we consider has a high rate of transfer to real function and must facilitate the actual learning curve before we consider the investment. VR training reduces the expense and risks by eliminating the need for costly consumables and protective gear and decreases the risk of bringing a trainee onto a live shop floor. As important, “through-the-lens” feedback is immediate and therefore mistakes in form and technique are identified and corrected before they become a habit. Where facilities and equipment are inadequate or do not exist, we can bring virtual systems to any space with 110v outlets and adequate lighting. Furthermore, we have a handicap-accessible mobile classroom that can be used in collaboration with other facilities. We bring the classroom to you!
Big Ideas courses are available to students ages 13+, targeting not only high school students, but also individuals already in the workforce who want to explore a different career or a cottage business. These introductory classes provide a high-value opportunity to "test a new career" without interrupting their existing job. These courses offer quick and affordable experiences as opposed to a lengthy and expensive apprenticeship or certification program.
In less than ten months of its inception, Big Ideas, Inc. created programming and offered courses in three Minnesota communities. Through this program, they successfully introduced 172 people to welding, carpentry, plumbing, commercial sewing, commercial cooking, and home maintenance.
"By end-of-year 2028, every person in America will have the opportunity to experience a skilled trade." -Big Ideas, Inc.'s 10-year Goal
To reach our long-term goal, we affiliate with other motivated organizations via our BIPartner™ model. Beginning with an application process, interested leadership is thoroughly vetted through personal interviews and background screening. Award decisions are made by our selection committee. Once an organization is approved, financial support is provided based on an annual budget with funds distributed throughout the year. Merit based grants are available for an additional two years. We provide detailed information for start-up in our copyrighted and licensed BIPartner Guide. BILink, our custom written on-line platform, contains all course data input by BIPartners providing the basis for all advertising and promotion, contains the BI Partnership Guide and supporting documentation, and provides continuously updated materials and data for on-going operation of a BIPartnership. We and other BIPartners are only a phone call away and when needed, one of our Outreach Specialists can work directly with BIPartner staff.
As technology advances, we budget to invest in virtual reality training systems in even more trades. Our internal research and subsequent programming indicate that learners do not wish to travel more than 20-25 minutes to take classes. Because of this, we choose to invest in technology that is highly mobile and whose cost can be distributed across more learners. This technology frees us from being tethered financially and physically to bricks and mortar facilities thus we are continually assessing opportunities to add more mobile classrooms to our fledgling fleet.
We are excited and encouraged by the enthusiasm of our participants and circles of support. As we see the results of our program in multiple communities, our model is flexible and responsive to the needs of the tradespeople, students, instructors, and BIPartners. This adventure allows us to discover, explore, and learn even more ways to create opportunities to discover, explore and learn real-world trade skills!
The U.S. economy has changed. The manufacturing sector is growing and modernizing, creating a wealth of challenging, well-paying, highly skilled jobs for those with the skills to do them. The demise of vocational education at the high school level has bred a skills shortage in manufacturing today and with it a wealth of career opportunities for both under-employed college grads and high school students looking for direct pathways to interesting, lucrative careers. Many of the jobs in manufacturing are attainable through apprenticeships, on-the-job training, and vocational programs offered at community colleges. They don’t require expensive, four-year degrees for which many students are not suited.