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Entrepreneurial Skills Building

By Kristi Wetsch, Literacy Program Manager, Career Transitions

A Montana Rural Employment Initiative Demonstration Site

THE GOAL OF THE ENTREPRENEUR CLASS at Career Transitions in Bozeman and the Montana Rural Employment Initiative (MREI) was to help people write workable business plans in a nurturing environment.

Members of SCORE (Senior Core of Retired Executives) from the Bozeman Chamber of Commerce took turns teaching classes in their own areas of expertise. For example, a banker taught the financial management class. We also hired a special education teacher to work as an assistant teacher to help the participants write their business plans and budgets and help the SCORE instructors.

The class was a diverse group from the rural areas around Bozeman. Half of the class was eligible for Vocational Rehabilitation services and many were interested in creating PASS Plans to purchase items for their businesses. Their business ideas included teaching computer programs, becoming an electrician, providing typing services, designing Web pages, becoming travel guides, cleaning big equipment with environmentally-friendly products, becoming a legal nurse aide, and opening a mobile knife sharpening business.

One of the most interesting people in this class was a 45-year-old man with developmental disabilities who was interested in starting his own lawn care and snow removal service. His employment history was full of jobs that he either quit or was fired from because he lacked of motivation or didn’t get along with co-workers. He was labeled by others as antisocial, lacking self-esteem, and having personal hygiene problems. The assistant teacher worked closely with this man, taking notes during class and getting his ideas on paper.

The class accepted him and treated him with the same respect they gave one another. Because of the class’s acceptance, he demonstrated incredible growth. He visited with his classmates and shared stories and pictures about his family (which he was very private about before the class). He asked questions in class. In addition, this student found a job on his own, doing work he enjoys. He now gets along with his co-workers and is doing a good job.

Although the main focus and goal of this program was to teach the students how small businesses work and how to get the businesses started, it was quite apparent that more was learned. Another special needs student gained some much needed knowledge to achieve his goals, but he also became an active participant in class and at the job site. This opportunity allowed him to grow, achieve higher self-esteem, and the confidence to become a more valuable employee and potential new business owner.

A third student in the class was a 17-year-old high school student who works for his family business sharpening knives during the day and attends an alternative high school in the evenings. His business plan was to become a partner in the family business by purchasing a small truck and making the sharpening service mobile. He would sharpen the knives on site so the customer wouldn’t have to give up their knives for a few days. The student was working hard on this project and his potential for success is evident. He also became more social and vocal in the class. The assistant teacher worked with him on writing his business plan.

Small business ownership is a growing option for people with severe disabilities. Mentorship from business owners, partnerships with Vocational Rehabilitation and other employment services such as Jobs Training Partnership Act, use of Social Security Work Incentives, high quality support staff training and technical assistance (like that provided by the Rural Institute), and inventive employment creation are the elements of success.