Why youth enterprise is not the word on every parent’s lips and why it should be

Following a career at PricewaterhouseCoopers, I set up my own business in 2008 as a coach and a consultant, as a result of becoming of mother to two gorgeous girls.

“I am passionate about diversity; about the transformation women undergo when they become Mums; and leadership. I believe we can all choose to be leaders in our own lives and communities. How we live depends so much on our own mindset and sense of wholeness”.

Kate Griffiths is co-founder of Minervas Mind. Minerva’s Mind helps women especially Mums discover what they are really interested in and to see how, by making more conscious decisions, they can use that new found knowledge to get more from their lives.

We are delighted to welcome Kate as our regular columnist reflecting the views of mums and commenting on work and life from a mums point of view.

When I was a kid I can remember my Dad putting forward the view that being an entrepreneur rather than following a profession was the way of the future. Thinking back it is clear why he would espouse that view as from the age of about 40 he ran his own company. According to the Office for National Statistics, there are only 7,000 UK firms with over 250 employees so the majority of young people will work in a small and medium sized enterprise (SME) even if they do not own it.

As Peter Jones has said, entrepreneurs are not born they are formed by their experiences, which is why it is so important that opportunities are presented to young people through the schooling system. So why isn’t this happening? Is it the way young people are taught in schools or is it something cultural or is it reluctance on the part of parents. The rest of this article will question whether schools are preparing young people for enterprise and give an example of one programme that does. It will conclude with the views of some parents.

Here are some statistics courtesy of a YouTube video entitled A vision of K-12 students today – an American project that was created to inspire teachers to use technology in engaging ways to help students develop higher level thinking skills.

* Apparently 76% of teachers in the project have never blogged, used or created a podcast.
* Only 14% of teachers let students create something once a week using technology
* 63% never do, yet all these young people today are digital learners.

This means that whilst many students spend a part of each week playing games like Nintendo DS; listening to books on their iPods; blogging and using social networking sites, their teachers think that using email means they are keeping up with their students. Their students however much prefer instant messaging, texting and tweeting to email! Add to that the fact that many will have 14 jobs before they are 38 and most of those jobs have yet to be created and it is clear we have a major challenge in the education system. Young people are thirsty for engagement but are switched off by the more traditional methods used by their teachers.

It is not all doom and gloom. Recently I had the opportunity to watch a master at work. Michael Martin’s company Soul Traders Workshops offers taster sessions and embedded programmes on entrepreneurship for young people in the classroom and hard to reach NEET groups. Initially he wrote a 13 week modular course (to fit into a term) on Commercial/Social Enterprise and Economic Wellbeing. It was aimed at students in Year 11 and 12 however what has happened is that the work is mostly utilised by schools for Year 9 and 10 students. Often trainers are invited in to lead a one-off session during Global Entrepreneurship Week at the end of the academic year. In other words the workshops are perceived as a way to fill a gap in the curriculum even in the proactive schools.

This is incredibly short-sighted. In the two hour session I observed, students demonstrated 30 skills – virtually unaware of doing so given the engaging way the session was structured – that are needed to be enterprising in the workplace either in self-employment or as a permanent employee. Moreover, the session encouraged young people to take responsibility for their future and to consider key questions like what is important to them and how to ensure that is integrated into whatever vocation they end up pursuing, After all most of us will spend at least 45 years working. Interestingly, Michael used a range of media to get the message across which included hands-on activities, PowerPoint, the web, video and texting: contextualised learning to fit the environment in which young people prefer to interact.

So what is stopping more schools from addressing this need to teach young people about enterprise and prepare them properly for the world of work? There is certainly limited flexibility in the timetable for what is deemed cross-curricular activity, especially in terms of engaging external providers who offer valuable insights into the mindset and skillset needed for the modern workplace. This seems incredible especially now when we are reeling from the ramifications of a worldwide financial crisis and really need to inspire young people to think creatively and explore new things.

After fifteen years in working with teachers and students to improve enterprise awareness, Michael is philosophical about the challenges: there are some shining lights in education; teachers who recognise their role is to inspire, not to lecture or judge. We can be quick to criticise teaching staff so we shouldn’t forget how difficult it is; few of us can do that job day in day out. There’s the old joke about those that can, do; those that can’t, teach. Especially pointed irony, in terms of enterprise. But I prefer to rephrase it as those that can, do; those that teach well, understand. The problem is an outmoded system.

Teachers’ creativity is hamstrung by endless bureaucracy and classroom discipline management. It may be a reductionist view but lowest common denominator tends to rule policy. By that I mean the education system was originally designed by big business for big business. The industrial revolution brought about focus on creating a compliant labour force, seduced away from enterprise, as well as religious dogma, poor living conditions and outright lawlessness. One either had the choice of becoming an apprentice to a family trade, a member of the clergy or a highwayman (or woman).

It’s still in place today. The one thing big business does not want is competition, ergo, enterprise learning only ever receives lip service spin. It’s a fact that the funding for it is not ring-fenced. The academics have neither the prior experience nor time to deliver it, while school management teams must balance a budget against buildings/infrastructure and short-staffing of low paid positions. The outcome is less than ideally prepared students who require training at corporate expense, resulting in multinationals unable to better the quality or service of local retailers they put out of business, victims of their own lobbying with the consumer often the biggest loser.

The truth is large employers (and the education system) don’t encourage rocking the status quo because it threatens power. I’m one who champions the rebel cause. As a qualified start-up advisor I’ve also assisted thousands into business (and to stay there) and can safely comment that students with dyslexia, ADD or who are what I call plain vanilla disruptive, make the best business people. In essence the creative ones who are considered failures academically seem to be better suited to and will be happier working for themselves than for someone else. Their ‘success’ – not just financially – tends to come in spite of their upbringing not because of it. Nature versus nurture will always be a debate but all I can do is give them the tools to make an informed choice, the rest is up to them.

It’s all about preferences. No right or wrong, most people are risk-averse and we are prone to knock those who are different but we need better solutions to the world’s problems .I for one am happy and privileged to play a part in encouraging young people to challenge conventional wisdom.

According to David McQueen who works with young entrepreneurs in schools as well as Enterprise UK, the challenges that are out there is that in some schools and colleges some staff are reluctant to encourage enterprise as they cannot control it. Some cite that it could encourage bullying or cite the limits on how much money students can bring into school, but the bigger picture is that they can control how things are sold through enterprise clubs and lunches.

Another potential barrier is reluctance by parents for their kids to engage in this kind of activity? Interestingly I tested out this hypothesis by asking a number of parents what their views on youth enterprise was especially in relation to their own kids. I was pleasantly surprised by what I heard.

One parent who has four children ranging from 9 -27 had this to say:
“As a mum I want to encourage my children to get as involved as much as possible so they are more rounded and understand the way the world works and what they have to do to get on in life. I have high expectations of my children but I also want them to have a great childhood. We love the fact that all 4 of our kids help us out in some ways. I have high expectations of my children but I also want them to have a great childhood. We love the fact that all 4 of our kids help us out in some way….I am in favour of children being enterprising, as long as they are guided and helped.”

A single parent who was very enterprising from an early age, had this to say:
“My daughter (age 8) has followed in my footsteps already, and though I would certainly not let her do this alone I allowed her to have a section of a table at the craft fair I organised last weekend, where she sold things she had made (out of paper, natch). This was all her idea, and the only input from me was to provide her with some string, paper and plasticine! Basically I think if the urge is there, it needs nurturing. Children can learn a lot by using their initiative in this way, not only about economics … but about negotiation, expressing yourself and ways to find your own means to an end. The social elements of youth enterprise are just as important in personal development as the satisfaction from providing a service to someone, which can only be a win-win situation where positive connections are made.”

Another Mum who feels her children are still too young for her to comment on their interests directly made a very interesting point:
“We should be encouraging kids into enterprise if that’s what interests them. So many of us find the traditional career route doesn’t fit/isn’t satisfying but it’s tough to change path when your education has been ‘get good grades, go to uni, get a good career with a big company”.

Another also agreed it was good to encourage children to be enterprising and she has got her 10 and 12 year old selling stuff for her on ebay. In fact I am thinking of employing them to do the same for me for a commission as I have neither the time nor the inclination to do it but have a house full of clutter!

The one father that I spoke to had this to say:
“I am determined for my children to be entrepreneurial. Even if they don’t run their own businesses I am passionate about getting them to see the skills of problem solving, decision- making and the fun of running with your own money making ideas by being entrepreneurial. Both of my children are under 12 and have actually run with their own projects both in and out of school and are always intrigued by the way we work.”

The overwhelming perspective of parents can be summed up in the following fantastic Jim Rohn quotation – the caveat being that all the parents that responded to my survey, all run their own businesses! Jim firmly believes in instilling an enterprising spirit within young people from an early age and I for one just wish that my parents had adopted his point of view. He says and I quote:
“I teach kids to have two bikes – one to ride and one to rent.”

I can only conclude that the failure of the school system to embrace this need more fully comes from barriers which are cultural. In the UK as opposed to the US there is still almost an expectation that entrepreneurs will fail and rather than seeing someone with a failed business as a person who has learnt a great deal and is therefore worth investing in, the prevailing attitude is that they are a loser and should not be helped. This attitude is so unhelpful today when we need out of the box thinking to solve the major issues we face globally.

What better way to start challenging this perspective than to encourage young children to be enterprising.

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