A lack of specialist teaching means most UK teenagers leave school with little or no business knowledge. Business Leader spoke to Sharon Davies, CEO of Young Enterprise, to learn how the finance and enterprise education charity is working to fill the void.
Entrepreneurs stimulate growth, create opportunity and drive innovation and social change – so why isn’t the UK education system doing more to develop these skills in future generations?
Only a quarter of the nation’s Generation Z leaves school with any specialist entrepreneurial education under their belts, according to a recent YouGov survey, and as many as one in two go further, saying their education has failed to prepare them for the world of work.
The impact is that young people lack both the nous and the confidence to embark upon entrepreneurial careers – and at a time when UK business needs dynamic leaders, this is a major worry.
‘Crucial for Britain’
There is no quick fix, but the government is being urged to look at teaching reforms as a key first step.
Sir Anthony Seldon is Vice Chancellor at the University of Buckingham, which has recently secured pioneering private sector support to match-fund fees on enterprise degree courses to make its business courses more accessible.
He believes British politics needs to take notice of the challenge facing industry in the wake of Brexit, and says classroom investment is essential if the nation is to remain a global business power.
He said: “As British business faces an uncertain future, it is vital that we support entrepreneurialism, and ensure Britain remains a world leader in enterprise and innovation. But to do this we must nurture our next generation to enable young entrepreneurial talent to shine through.
“For too long, entrepreneurialism has been deprioritised in schools and children have been taught to avoid risk. This is a mistake.
“We urge Prime Minister Boris Johnson to get entrepreneurialism on the curriculum in schools and change the perception on enterprise education. Teaching enterprise in schools is crucial for Britain to have the edge in creating ambitious entrepreneurs.”
That view is endorsed by Phillip Salter, founder of The Entrepreneurs Network, who agrees future success hinges on an improved education system.
He said: “Despite political turmoil, Britain has continued to remain a global hub of entrepreneurship. However, for this to truly continue we can’t overlook key issues such as talent and nurturing young entrepreneurs. A strong start-up eco-system is key to economic growth and innovation in Britain, and to maintain this we must consider modernising school curriculums to encourage entrepreneurialism.”
‘A massive game-changer’
Delve a little deeper, and it becomes evident there is already a potential solution out there – albeit one which needs support from business to truly turn the tide.
Young Enterprise is a national financial and enterprise education charity. Launched in 1962, it now helps more than 300,000 young people a year, supplementing their schooling with specialist business coaching – a service which extends to guiding schools and teachers too.
At its head is CEO Sharon Davies, a passionate advocate of entrepreneurial education. Davies believes businesses must work with schools to reduce disadvantage gaps so young people can flourish in the corporate world.
She said: “We have a belief that all young people should be able to access financial and enterprise education.
“We provide opportunities for them to learn to earn and to manage their money, and to develop an enterprising mindset, which obviously is key.
“We’re leaving the EU, and those skills are going to be absolutely pertinent to the future of this country.”
Crucially, Davies knows first-hand how important support of this type can be.
She left home herself at 16, and ‘moved around a lot’ in a series of temporary jobs, before a chance encounter with a youth worker proved a major influence on her future direction.
She said: “This youth worker was someone who was interested in me developing myself, without any angles, and I had never come across anyone like that before; someone who genuinely wanted me to do better, who believed I had some value in the world and that I mattered.
“I felt that someone had given me a break, and I continue to feel that this sort of opportunity is a massive game-changer for people.”
‘Bringing influencers into the classroom’
Young Enterprise’s contemporary activities are varied and evolving.
Its Company Programme gives students real-life experience of setting up and running a company, and its Tenner Challenge encourages them to be creative and resourceful in growing their cash.
Private sector support is available, as is backing and resources for teachers, while there is also a wide range of digital assets available to ensure its reach is not limited by geography.
“We try to work with the school to establish what it is they are looking for,” says Davies.
“There is support there for the teachers in terms of lesson plans and other support. We can provide online resources on how to utilise those programmes within the curriculum, and we also have volunteer business advisors, where a mentor can come in once a week or once a fortnight.
“We want to bring influencers into the classroom, so children get a better perspective on what’s out there.”
In essence, it’s all about equipping young people with the tools and knowhow to thrive in the real world.
Davies continues: “One of the biggest things is making sure we work very closely with our employment partners, the corporates we work with, so the skills those young people are developing are real-world applicable.
“We know there is a massive gap between what employers are looking for, and young people coming out perhaps not prepared for the world of work.
“What we’re trying to do is really bring closer together the world of learning and the labour market.
“What we’re talking about is young people who are adaptable, creative, curious – they have the right attitude and the right mindset.”
‘We can’t do it alone’
At present, Young Enterprise is supported by 6,000 volunteers and 3,500 businesses, and operates in around 40% of secondary schools in England and Wales.
However, it has clear ambitions to extend that reach. A new three-year strategy – called No Time Like The Future – is aiming high.
“We want to deliver a million learning opportunities for young people to get that opportunity to build a bright future,” says Davies. “To do that we will need to mobilise 40,000 volunteers, teachers and alumni, and we will need to secure an investment of £16m.
“No Time Like The Future is really a positive opportunity for us to galvanise the country at a time when we are leaving the EU.
“The potential we have got is to really develop a homegrown entrepreneurial pipeline of young people that are able to develop critical skills – adaptability, curiosity, creativity.
“You can only do that if you invest in young people now. We can’t do that alone, we absolutely want the support of businesses, that’s key, and I would love to talk to any businesses that are interested in working with us to do that.
“You’d get the opportunity to build the profile of your business, to professionally develop your staff, and you could have a direct impact on supporting young people to build a better future in your community.”