What is Big Ideas Anyway?
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
- Inferiority: The significantly fewer high schoolers contemplating a trade program or two-year degree appeared to feel inferior to their peers considering four-year degrees.
- 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.
- Electronics: Perhaps kids were tethered to their electronics not because of electronics, but because opportunities to ‘putz around’ were not as prevalent as they once were.
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.
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.