Developing enterprising skills can never be a quick-fix

Global Entrepreneurship Week is a good start, but it’s not enough to teach young people all the skills they need to be entrepreneurs

Global Entrepreneurship Week is back; a mid-November flurry of enterprise and entrepreneurial activity. It will be a week in schools of competitions, challenge days and trade fairs.

Enabling Enterprise will be busy too: we will be taking students to Exterion Media, Mimecast, Société Générale, PwC and many of our other 70 business partners. We estimate that more than 15,000 of our students from 5 through to 18 will be taking part in enterprise activity over the week. We will even be hosting a delegation from Thailand!

But is a week enough to teach young people all the skills that they need to be entrepreneurs? The week’s events always stimulate an outpouring of supportive statistics: the 50 per cent of young people who want to set up businesses against the 5 per cent who actually do; the rocketing levels of self-employment in the UK; the number of children who, after an exciting day of enterprising activity, declare that they are ready to forge ahead with an inspired and aspirational career.

I set up Enabling Enterprise as part of a team of teachers in 2009 because we knew we could do more to set up our students for the rest of their lives. No one can doubt the potential of strong qualifications to unlock opportunities. But too often there is a gap when it comes to the other three-quarters of the CV that young people really need if they are going to be successful: skill, experience of work, and considered high aspirations.

But what skills should students develop when studying enterprise? The terminology used varies – soft skills, entrepreneurial skills, life skills. Few people, though, question the need for students to develop essential skills such as communication, problem-solving, teamwork or leadership. And the importance of resilience and empathy being put in place for children at primary school.

Developing these enterprising skills is not a quick-fix. There is no programme so compelling that in a single week makes children become resilient team-players, compelling communicators, or inspiring leaders. Compare our expectations of students’ literacy skills: we would never assume that spending a few days in the library would result in accomplished readers.

The reality is that preparing our children and young people for the rest of their lives needs a daily focus on improving skills in the same way as we would approach academic learning: in a structured, focused way – knowing, for example, the steps that take a student from being unwilling to contribute in class to a compelling presenter.

The good news is that it is not an intractable problem.

We must  approach skills in the same way as we would academic learning

Working with students over at least a year we note that they make great progress on eight key enterprise skills and we get to see wonderful examples: the shy student takes responsibility for time-keeping, then takes responsibility for a small task and over time builds up to take become an effective leader. This progress comes not from a single week, but enterprise lessons every week, trips to businesses, and a relentless focus on the next step of progress in his or her skills.

This learning doesn’t have to be completely alien from the rest of their learning. We’ve seen compelling projects like creating a radio show, launching a school magazine or even designing a Shakespeare theme park that boost literacy and enterprise skills. Or projects that bring in maths, science, languages and many other curriculum areas. The critical thing though is to stretch and develop those skills thoughtfully and over many weeks.

Global Entrepreneurship Week is acompelling way to raise the profile of entrepreneurship and enterprise. But as teachers, we mustn’t suppose that students’ skills can be so quickly transformed.

Enabling Enterprise is a not-for-profit partnership of schools and businesses that works to bring enterprise into the curriculum. Find free materials to support GEW and longer-term enterprise at www.enablingenterprise.org/gew


Tom Ravenscroft is Founder and Chief Executive of Enabling Enterprise

Your thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.