I read with interest recently about a new joint initiative between The Prince’s Trust and NatWest to encourage unemployed young people to start up in business. It followed new figures showing that 723,000 young people are still struggling to find a job.
This, against a backdrop revealed last year in a survey by Nectar Business, that nearly 40% of 16-30 year olds thought starting their own business would provide them with more flexibility than working for someone else. Over half said they believed they would start their own enterprise in the next five years, while a massive 80% of them said they would like to do so.
These are interesting and encouraging indicators but had me wondering to what extent we are most effectively preparing the ground for Britain’s move into a young enterprise economy. I’m not talking here about the great support on offer from many organisations to people in their Twenties looking for start-up support, but what are we doing at a younger age to ingrain entrepreneurial thinking into our children?
It’s an important consideration given that the research showed that more than one in four unemployed young people would rather try to set up their own business than continue to job-seek in today’s competitive market. Official figures from the Office for National Statistics show self-employment in the UK is at its highest level since records began almost 40 years ago. There are around five million people working for themselves, with the proportion of the total workforce self-employed at 15% compared with 13% in 2008, and 8.7% in 1975. The number of self-employed young people has risen by sharply since the start of the economic crisis in 2008. Perhaps we should be doing more to prepare the next generation now.
I took a glance through the curriculum for GCSE Business Studies to see if that might be doing the trick. Aside from the opportunities to watch presentations of old episodes of “Dragon’s Den” as examples of entrepreneurialism, it struck me as primarily theoretical and not capturing the excitement, risk and commitment needed to set up your own business. Without conveying the excitement, how can we expect to instill enthusiasm for enterprise in our young people?
Enterprise shouldn’t be taught theoretically. It’s experiential. You have to get out and do it, to feel the buzz, to meet the challenges and find ways round them and, yes, to be knocked down but also dust yourself off and start again. The best way to teach it is to let them experience it.
I was privileged to be in contact with an amazing small charity a few years ago. HOPE HIV works to provide training and support for young people in sub-Saharan Africa whose lives have been affected by HIV, most often through losing their parents. Its founder, Phil Wall, hit on an amazing idea to engage school pupils in supporting the charity: The Social Entrepreneurs Project. The project introduces entrepreneurial skills and social awareness to the UK classroom. Given ‘seed capital’, pupils come up with creative business ideas, and then develop commercial skills as they make it happen. All profits are donated to HOPE HIV, so pupils learn what it means to make a real difference. This is entrepreneurialism in action and so much more valuable for the learning process of our future business leaders than a textbook, a classroom and an exam paper.