“What do you want to be when you grow up?" is a common question adults ask children, but the responses are often limited to the jobs young children are familiar with.

To help broaden those career horizons, RBC Wealth Management – U.S. has partnered for many years with national nonprofit Junior Achievement (JA), which aims to inspire and prepare young people to succeed in a global economy. Together, the two organizations have worked to introduce children to different industries – including financial services – starting as early as kindergarten.

“Most young kids don't realize how many different options are out there in terms of a career," says Brett Thorne, head of RBC Correspondent and Advisor Services (CAS) and a member of the JA of the Upper Midwest (JAUM) Board of Directors. “Junior Achievement shows students all the different ways they can be successful in life – they don't just have to follow one pre-written path to success."

Like all organizations, JAUM has had to pivot and react to changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. After closing its offices in mid-March, the nonprofit worked quickly to expand its portfolio of free online resources for teachers and parents to support children's distance learning.

Once it became clear that students wouldn't be returning to the classroom for the end of the 2019-2020 school year, the organization turned its focus to transitioning its on-site learning lab programs into virtual experiences.

Because of the spread of COVID-19, Junior Achievement has had to pivot from in-person learning activities to virtual programs.

Hands-on learning turned virtual

JA's programs, which serve students in kindergarten through 12th grade, focus on giving young people the skills and information they need to plan for their futures and make smart academic and economic choices. The programs are all taught by volunteers and foster work-readiness, entrepreneurship and financial literacy skills using both classroom and experiential learning.

“With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic downturn that followed, it's more important than ever that kids learn how to manage money and understand the value of education," says Lori Dossett, director of marketing and communications for JAUM.

RBC employees have volunteered to teach JA programs for many years, and the firm has also supported the organization financially for more than 20 years, through the RBC Foundation-USA. Recently, RBC Wealth Management took its support of JA a step further with a new three-year sponsorship of a "shop" in JAUM's experiential learning lab, located in St. Paul, Minnesota. The Peter J. King Family Foundation Learning Lab hosts two of JA's unique programs – JA Finance Park and JA BizTown – that were originally created as hands-on activities for students.

JA Finance Park is for middle and high school students. During a day-long field trip to the learning lab, students would be assigned family and income scenarios and visit “businesses," including the RBC Wealth Management shop, to gather information and make financial decisions. Students would purchase housing, health care and other expenses and make investment decisions while working to balance their budgets. At the RBC Wealth Management shop, volunteers helped the students create an RBC Wealth Plan focused on long-term savings goals.

junior achievement group photo

RBC Wealth Management volunteers are pictured at the Peter J. King Family Foundation Learning Lab before the spread of COVID-19.

At JA BizTown, students in grades 4-6 would visit the learning lab's simulated town to learn how an economy works. Each student would apply for a job, with some working in manufacturing, some managing the town's cafe, and some running the “RBC Wealth Management Biz Journal," guided by volunteers from RBC Wealth Management.

Both programs have been affected by COVID-19, with in-person activities postponed indefinitely. JA Finance Park already had a virtual option built into the program, and since going fully virtual this spring, nearly 3,600 students have participated in JA Finance Park from home.

The next step, Dossett explains, will be incorporating virtual volunteers into the experience. JAUM plans to begin piloting the virtual JA Finance Park program with real-time volunteers later in 2020.

“These programs are critical, even if they can't currently be delivered in person," Dossett says. "Having our corporate volunteers share personal and professional experiences is still so valuable to these students because it takes learning out of the textbook and brings it to life – even if it's delivered virtually."

JA BizTown does not currently have a virtual option. The organization is working to move the program to a virtual experience that will be as meaningful and realistic as the one students receive during their on-site visit.

“One of the things that distinguishes JA BizTown is how hands-on it is, and we don't want to lose that," Dossett says. “We're working very hard this summer to create a similar experience for the students that's just as valuable even if they can't come to our building."

In early March, just before the COVID-19 pandemic, RBC and JAUM commemorated the new RBC sponsorship with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the King Learning Lab in St. Paul. Many things have changed in the months since, including the need for JAUM's programs as students of all ages navigate a suddenly uncertain world.

"Teaching young people financial literacy and work readiness is more important than ever," Thorne says. "JA helps prepare students to succeed by showing them the real-life practice of what they learn in class. It's an invaluable program."

RBC Wealth Management, a division of RBC Capital Markets, LLC, Member NYSE/FINRA/SIPC.

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