(BPT) - In school, students are learning new skills that will help them achieve their dreams. For a growing number of them, these dreams include owning their own business. Small businesses are an important part of the American economy and have accounted for two out of every three jobs added in the past 25 years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Investing in budding entrepreneurs today will help create strong small businesses in the future.One way students learn about what it's like to be a small-business owner is through Junior Achievement, an organization that works to provide school-aged children with lessons in financial literacy, work and career readiness, and entrepreneurship. Because Junior Achievement educators directly work with students in communities across the country, they have unique insight into ways to support the next generation of small-business owners.In fact, according to a Junior Achievement survey, nearly 9 out of 10 (86%) teens indicated they had some level of interest in starting their own business. These students may decide to start their own business after graduation or bring their entrepreneurial ambitions into their college endeavors.Schools provide important lessons about the skills and drive needed to own a business, but learning doesn't stop when the last school bell rings. Role models in the community can also significantly make a positive impact in forging a path for future small-business owners.Engage kidsIf you have children of your own or friends with children, ask them about their entrepreneurial interests. Tell them about your reasons for supporting small businesses and take them to these stores in your community. Oftentimes the owners are present, and if they aren't too busy, are happy to discuss their experiences.Mentor and hire internsIf you own a small business yourself, consider hiring students and interns. This can help you during busy seasons while also exposing young adults to what it's like to run a small business. If developing a hiring program like this doesn't work for you, consider being a mentor instead. Your local business association or college would likely love volunteers and you'll feel good about making a difference.Support businesses making an impactPut your money where it matters by shopping at businesses that are helping entrepreneurs. For example, the Start Small, Grow Big program by The UPS Store is designed to support future small-business owners and entrepreneurs by enabling customers across their network of 5,100+ locations to donate to Junior Achievement USA upon checkout. All donations benefit Junior Achievement programs in the communities in which they are received. Learn more at TheUPSStore.com/StartSmall.Start an entrepreneurial projectWhether part of a school assignment or just for fun, consider ways children can get a taste of what it's like to own a small business by choosing an age-appropriate project you can assist them with. You might help young kids run a yard sale or lemonade stand. Adolescents might start an online storefront for their arts and crafts, or perhaps for their tutoring or childcare services. Whatever the project, talk about goals, budgeting, customer service and other important components of a good business plan.The future is bright as the next generation of small-business owners are learning important life skills and dreaming big. With these steps, you can help ensure their early visions empower them in the future.
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