23 June, 2014 - 08:03 By Tony Quested

Young entrepreneurs must be schooled in needs of society

After tiger mums, tiger teachers. The Government's strategy to start educating schoolchildren as young as five in entrepreneurship is laudable if a tad ambitious given prevailing literacy and numeracy rates.

The core argument is that if youngsters learn about building business ideas while they are at school they have more chance of creating employment opportunities for themselves and others in a fiercely changing world. That, argues Lord Young who delivered the report, will in turn boost the economy.

Entrepreneurial skills exhibited by youngsters are nothing new. Children have sold cigarette cards at a profit for years. 

The principle the Government is peddling sounds simple enough. Teach youngsters that they can make items and sell them; grow things and sell them. Raid the attic with the parents' permission and hold a front of house market. Come up with bright ideas that make money.

On the face of it, this seems a good lesson to learn; that there has been a damaging run on the Bank of Mum and Dad which has forced its impending and permanent closure; that money doesn't grow on trees and if you want something enough you will find a legitimate way to raise the funds without holding your hand out for pocket money.

Others would argue that Mammon has a firm enough grip on the globe and its inhabitants without turning primary schools into infant factories.

Certainly no-one could argue against the rationale of needing to create new jobs against a fast-changing and potentially apocalyptic backdrop.

No-one had vocalised the change in England's economic landscape when Adam Smith and subsequently Napoleon, inspired by reading Smith, commented that England had become a nation of shopkeepers. Contrary to myth, this was not designed as a statement of fact or an insult – rather a metaphorical observation that British power, unlike that of its main continental rivals, henceforth derived from commerce rather than naval supremacy or the extent of its lands or population.

So now the Government wants Britain to be a nation of entrepreneurs. The start point is that all schoolchildren and college students should have an understanding of entrepreneurship before they go out into the world of work.

Lord Young, who is the Prime Minister’s Small Business and Enterprise Adviser, said in his Enterprise For All report that those in education should receive a ‘lifelong experience of enterprise in education’ to equip them for survival in an economic environment that has changed both ‘structurally and socially’ through technology.

Already 55 per cent of young people of school leaving age in the UK say they would like to start a business, according to the RBS Youth Enterprise Tracker, with 95.9 per cent of the companies in the UK now employing less than 10 employees.

Lord Young’s suite of recommendations include: 

• A network of enterprise advisers at school for head teachers; 

• the extension of the Fiver scheme to reach 40,000 childen – which sees pupils receiving a £5 note and using it to generate more cash with a business for a month; 

• Enterprise Passport – a digital report that tracks and records enterprise experience in order to create a record of employability that’s not based on academic performance; 

• teachers to spend some inset days with employers to understand more about the world of work; 

• all Level 3 vocational courses should include a module on working for yourself and how to start up a business.

The Government also wants the introduction of an Enterprise ‘E-Star’ Award to assess and recognise universities' commitment to entrepreneurship.

As so many startups perennially fail, an entrepreneurial approach at an earlier age would suggest that, for a former nation of shopkeepers, any improvement on those stats would represent welcome progress.

Cambridge technology entrepreneur Sherry Coutu has worked tirelessly to put coding on the curriculum of schools, recognising where a larger percentage of jobs are likely to be generated in a future world built on technological advances and increasing integration of technologies.

We also need to broker into the debate the demand for more young scientists to help accelerate more effective drug discovery and the earlier detection, diagnosis and treatment of disease.

Put into the mix the likelihood that a changing world allied to unprecedented longevity in the population will lead to more and more people having increasing time on their hands away from what we have come to regard as traditional channels of employment.

Job sharing and flexitime won't make significant inroads into the job scene of the future. So how do we keep the devil from manipulating all those idle hands? How do we prevent a Mad Max scenario and ensure that regions and communities that have no thriving core of commerce, remain socially productive rather than wastelands?

And that is what is missing from this otherwise commendable government strategy - any mention of social entrepreneurship: People with time on their hands using their grey cells to conjure ideas that improve the way communities can function and prosper; initiatives that improve the lot of neighbourhoods and society in general.

This is one lesson that must begin within industry: Corporate heavyweights, science & technology companies and entrepreneurs need to be incentivised by government to put a decent percentage of their R & D process into innovation that will benefit humanity. Syphon off some of the energy, brainpower and contribution destined for the bottom line for the greater good of the planet.

That is a lesson that would inspire the generations spawned by the baby boomers and which would feed into the entrepreneurship in schools initiative. 

To push an isolated message of entrepreneurship and potential job creation for its own sake is morally bankrupt. 

To encourage bright ideas that alleviate poverty and inequality; that improve living conditions for the majority – this is the currency of a truly caring nation and must be at the very heart of any entrepreneurship education. 

 

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