I’ve been a Junior Achievement classroom volunteer for several years, but today was my first experience with JA BizTown. I agreed to volunteer mostly because my son wanted me to, but now I’m glad I saw firsthand what it was all about.
When I was a junior in high school, I got my first exposure to business operations, as part of a Junior Achievement company called Vendex. We sold $1 shares in our company to raise capital, then manufactured denim tote bags, and sold them. My mother used her Vendex bag for years, and I wish I still had one now as a memento of that experience.
At the time I had no interest in the administrative side of business. I had to help sell shares, and later tote bags, but other than that I stuck to working in production. I learned about the problems it created when workers were absent, or when they sat around talking instead of working, and the station I was working at had nothing to do because one of the previous stations on the line had gotten behind.
That was a year-long program (meeting weekly), so we got a good look at what it took to have a successful business. (We did earn a profit, though I don’t remember how much of a dividend we were able to distribute at the end.) Our adult volunteers (from Stanley Tools in New Britain, CT) had already procured the product idea, design, and production machinery (sewing machines), but we did the rest – under their excellent guidance.
BizTown, on the other hand, is a one-day simulation (though some businesses do make and sell simple products), giving students less in-depth but more breadth in terms of what goes on in the “real world” their parents work in. They each have a job (for which they had to interview in the weeks of preparation back at school before the actual event), they receive two paychecks which they deposit at the BizTown bank, and during breaks from work they go out into the “city” and spend money at other businesses.
Some of them have never filled out a bank deposit slip before, and one of my first tasks was to coach some of them through that process. They also had to maintain their check register, which was a challenge for most of the students in my group.
I was assigned to the Professional Offices. Our staff consisted of an attorney, an insurance agent, a realtor, a property appraiser, the director of the animal shelter, and the CFO. Mostly they provided professional services to the other businesses, but the animal shelter also did a brisk business with citizens wanting to adopt an animal (think Beanie Baby).
Oddly enough, the CFO made the lowest salary. That seemed backwards to me from what I know of the business world, so I looked up each job title later at salary.com. The median salary for a CFO in the U.S. is $330,000, far higher than any of the others listed above. I couldn’t find any data on animal shelter directors, but non-profit organizations rarely pay a lot. Even considering that the CFO of a small office wouldn’t command a large salary, even the low-end of the range was higher than the high-end of the range for the other jobs.
So not everything was true to life. (I’ve never seen a mail carrier make deliveries so many times in a day!) But the appraiser did have to go measure the square footage of the other businesses, and the attorney had to sign a lot of papers. The line at the bank was very long sometimes, and a 25-minute lunch break didn’t seem long enough to both eat and do banking/shopping.
We also made mistakes, like forgetting to put a “stamp” (stickers sold at the Delivery Center for 75 cents each) on an invoice before putting it in the mail. We had to have four checks deleted because they were entered in the computer wrong (two of them should have been deposits, not payments). But that’s part of real life too – making mistakes, correcting them, and learning from them.
By the afternoon, everyone in our office had mastered their jobs and had finished all their work – except the CFO, who had to wait until the last frog was adopted to make the final deposit at the bank and print an accounting report. (We made a profit!)
Students had interesting comments on what they learned from the day. One girl said that if she came back, she’d want a different job. (The DJ at the Radio, on the other hand, loved his job because he got to select the songs when there weren’t any requests being made.) My son said he learned how to be a meter reader. Several commented on learning how to make deposits and write checks.
Besides the knowledge of how BizTown works, I brought home a few tangible mementos of the day’s experience. I bought (with JA gift certificates issued to each volunteer) a copy of the special JA BizTown edition of the Quad-City Times, produced in the Newspaper office. My son promptly adopted the jumping frog I had bought from the animal shelter, but he gave me the yarn chick he had purchased at the Environmental Shop. And from the Print Shop I purchased one more special memory of the day: