Youth Engagement: Inspiring the Youngest Generation
SEMA has a long history of working with young people to help them find their way in our industry. One of the earliest initiatives, the Young Executives Network, now has more than 1,200 members, providing a broad base for peer-group interaction and networking.
Another project, the 35 Under 35 list, spotlights outstanding young individuals who have already become highly valued players within their fields or organizations. To date, more than 175 individuals have been recognized.
These kinds of programs help motivate young people who are already involved in our industry to succeed. Now we are looking at ways to reach even younger generations—and more of them—while their interests and career possibilities are still forming. There are currently two projects in the pilot stage that promise to address that goal.
One program, SEMA’s Young Guns initiative, works to encourage young enthusiasts to continue to pursue their passions. In this case, Young Guns are enthusiastic customizers, not necessarily professionals, who work on cars and trucks—usually with like-minded friends or family—as part of their lifestyle. For purposes of this program, they must be under 27 years of age.
SEMA has been working with car show producers around the nation to help identify Young Guns candidates and to select a small group who will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to the SEMA Show and a space to display their cars or trucks. This will allow them to network with more-established professional builders and leaders involved in our industry, make connections, absorb new ideas, and see how it’s possible for a passion to turn into a business.
One of the upsides of this approach is the social-media surge that accompanies the search for winners, leveraging the social networks of the winners themselves, not to mention the buzz we are able to generate by bringing winners to the SEMA Show. In this way, the Young Guns program functions not only as youth engagement and a career-path program but also as a broad consumer-awareness tactic that helps to mainstream car culture.
Another pilot program works to engage middle-school students through fun, hands-on educational workshops to be held at some of the largest car shows around the country. The goal will be to activate these students through experiential hands-on activities while in the midst of the cool world of customized cars and trucks. The program will include access to industry icons and encourage student curiosity with a focus on science, engineering, design and teamwork. The plan includes a mechanism to recognize top students with awards and extend the learning experience into the classroom, where students can pursue the automotive-related activities initiated at the car shows.
By organizing events that motivate students to learn within an automotive context, the program’s goal is to awaken the car bug. We aim to inspire middle-schoolers to become confident with technology, engineering and mathematics and to become inclined to enjoy the hobby. And like so many folks in our industry today, maybe some of them will apply their interest to careers in the automotive industry.
The first pilot event is scheduled to take place in January of next year. If successful, nine additional workshops would be added for 2018, so this program has the potential to reach hundreds, if not thousands, of students in the first year and can be scaled to continue growing into the future.
These youth-engagement programs will operate alongside our existing student outreach efforts, not only helping to cultivate future enthusiasts but also working to expand the pipeline of talented recruits for our industry far into the future.