CLIENT PERSPECTIVES: As part of The Herald’s Future of Education campaign, Geoff Leask, CEO of Young Enterprise Scotland wants to tap into the entrepreneurial spirit of Scotland’s young people. Here he gives his view in an article for The Herald’s Business Voices.
As things stand, far too many of our young people face the economic Armageddon of a jobs landscape laid waste by the coronavirus. According to some estimates we could see up to 60,000 more young people out of work over the next few months and for a generation that has already been hit hard by the pandemic, many may yet face the hopelessness of long-term unemployment.
It goes further, of course, than the impact on young lives. A shortage of young people in the workforce has dire consequences for the health of our economy. Less fresh thinking, fewer new ideas, a smaller talent pool to take our industries forward.
So what if we tried giving school leavers a different perspective on their future? What if we instilled in them the belief that they can be entrepreneurs, business owners and employers themselves?
One of the key conclusions of the Scottish Government’s Advisory Group on Economic Recovery (AGER) was that we must align education and skills training with the requirements of business. The AGER and others too pointed out that we must anchor economic recovery firmly with small businesses and start-ups.
Given both these points of view, my goal is to see enterprise learning become an integral part of our education system, from primary school through to college. All businesses, after all, need entrepreneurial drive to survive, evolve and ultimately scale up.
Young Enterprise Scotland runs a series of enterprise programmes that follow a development path from primary through to further education, embracing a ‘learning by doing’ approach.
We run a ‘fiver challenge’ for 8-10 year-olds to set up mini-businesses and create products or services that they can sell or deliver at a profit.
This leads into the ‘tenner challenge’ for S1/S3 and then onto the fully accredited Company Programme for 16-18 year-olds, which allows young people to express their innovation and creativity.
At college level we run Bridge 2 Business which offers students who have an interest in setting up their own company, or who are looking to take enterprise skills into the workplace, opportunities to engage directly with role models.
Introducing young people to business at an early stage and teaching entrepreneurial skills empowers them. Good communication, resilience, risk taking, team working and problem-solving can be taught and nurtured as they develop business plans, deal with cash flow and learn about marketing.
Company Programme alumni, who include the likes of Chris van der Kuyl, have spoken about how liberating the scheme is. For them it opened up the possibility of starting their own business, while giving them the belief they could walk into any interview knowing they had something to contribute.
Our success, however, depends on the engagement of business at all levels. We rely on business people volunteering their time and expertise to guide the school teams through their Company Programme activity, or to act as mentors in the Bridge 2 Business programme.
We need sponsors for the Circular Economy Challenge, which is doing a vital job of introducing primary school children to sustainability.
We also work with businesses to develop and deliver new courses and workshops And, thanks to the Scottish Tech Army, in the space of three months, we have become a digital operation with the capabilities to deliver all of our programmes and support online.
In many ways, Scotland is leading the way in enterprise education, enabling young people to develop enterprising skills in a real-life context. We give them an introduction to the world of business, through design, technology, market research, business plans, spreadsheets and sales.
Scotland is also the first in the UK to offer young people a qualification in entrepreneurial skills with the SCQF accredited Company Programme. And just as we have forged a path, so we can easily scale up our programmes with support and funding.
Even as the prospects for our young people look grim, we can still teach a mindset that inspires hope and progress. The question is, will you back them to succeed?
Geoff Leask, CEO, Young Enterprise Scotland