Sharon Davies, CEO of Young Enterprise
Can you teach entrepreneurship effectively in schools to children as young as twelve or fifteen? Or perhaps, more importantly, is it a good idea to do so? Yes, entrepreneurship now represents a recognized career path, with increasing numbers of people opting to start their own business rather than seeing law, accountancy, academia or medicine as the aspirational cities on the hill. But on the other hand, schools don’t teach property law or medical diagnosis to thirteen-year-olds. Their job is to provide a broad education in humanities and STEM subjects that will allow students to pursue their own interests and goals a little bit further down the line. So why teach entrepreneurship?
According to Sharon Davies, CEO of U.K. charity, Young Enterprise, the answer is simple. By encouraging young people to flex their entrepreneurial muscles at something close to the earliest possible age, you are not only providing a solid grounding for those – very possibly a minority – who will go on to start their own companies but also providing important life lessons.
Established in 1963, the charity is in the process of launching a new campaign dubbed No Time Like the the Future – which aims to provide children and young adults the skills and confidence they will require to survive and also thrive in an economic future that is about to be transformed by new technologies and (perhaps) socio-political change.
Fair enough, but what role does entrepreneurship play?
As Davis explains, the charity runs a number of “learning by doing” style programs that provide a grounding in running a business. For instance, The Company Programme – aimed at pupils between 12 and 19 – encourages students to come up with business ideas, think of a trading name and then take a product to the market, with the help of a business adviser. Operated through schools, the program can run from anything from 12 weeks to a year.
Davies is keen to stress that the emphasis is on proper practical skills. These include fundraising and dealing with issues such as what do when a customer buys online and then cancels a payment. “We provide them with an advisor and also public and product liability insurance to allow them to trade safely,” adds Davies. “Our advisors also help them navigate issues such Intellectual Property rights and compliance with the E.U’s General Data Protection regulation.”
All of which is admirable, but to return to my original question, is entrepreneurship something that should be taught in schools?
Thinking On Your Feet
Davies acknowledges that schools have huge responsibilities in terms of teaching the core curriculum but she cites a recent incident that illustrates why the Company Programme earns its place in the school day.
“One of our groups turned up at a trade fair and found that a supplier hadn’t delivered the product, so they had nothing to sell,” she says. “So instead of selling, they used their time carrying out market research. It’s this kind of resilience that the Company Programme teaches.”
And as Davies adds, while the initiative is open to all schools, there is a mission to deliver programs where they are needed most. “We focus on the most deprived areas of England and Wales,” says Davies.
Often those who sign up to take part – or who are recommended by their teachers – would not otherwise have access to the kind of business-focused mentoring and the wider networking opportunities offered by the various companies that provide advisers. All this is part of a process of teaching skills, but also raising aspirations.
All of this sits quite some distance from the shared workspaces of London’s Tech City area or similar hubs in regional cities. But that’s the point. Students who might not otherwise have had an opportunity to access advice and support are given a taste of what’s possible. It’s not necessarily intended to turn out a legion of entrepreneurs, but what it does set out to do is prepare the stage for those who do ultimately seek to run their own businesses, while imparting valuable skills to everyone taking part.