Worldwide, youth unemployment figures continue to be one of the most distressing statistics. They are a constant reminder of how much we have been neglecting education. Activating young people for the future of jobs is more critical than ever: Fighting unemployment is as much about jobs as it is about job creation. Europe’s start-up rates remain low compared to other parts of the world. Yes, we need skilled employees, but we also need more entrepreneurs and new businesses. The OECD reported in 2015 that Europe is willing to boost jobs, growth and innovation but to date, less than 50% of adults in the EU believe that they had the necessary skills and knowledge to start a business,1 and nearly 40% of companies report difficulty in finding staff with the right skills2.
Many governments are responding by bringing more entrepreneurship education into their national education strategies. Young people who have participated in entrepreneurship programmes are three to six times more likely to start their own business than those who have not; less likely to drop out or be unemployed; and more likely to earn higher incomes and be satisfied with their careers3. The entrepreneurial competence is about being resourceful, opportunistic and turning ideas into action. It’s a skill set that is as valuable for starting a venture as it is for getting a job. According to EURYDICE, so far 11 EU member states have comprehensive entrepreneurship education strategies. As a result, there is more teacher training and greater access to programs at all age levels in these countries. One in four young people in Sweden, for example, have had a practical entrepreneurial experience before they finish school. Impact studies consistently show higher rates of entrepreneurial activity among these students later on.
The involvement of the business community is key to the success of such strategies. Volunteers from local businesses are coaches, mentors and sector specialists. As they interact with teachers and young people, they share their work experience and expertise. They bring the real world into the classroom, helping to raise students’ awareness of what the modern work environment is like: “Nowadays in a working life it is quite common that you need to work in an entrepreneurial way. Nobody comes to tell you what to do and how to reach your goals in a concrete way (only in a factory might this be true)," says a JA business volunteer.
Teachers appreciate their partnerships with businesses because they help young people see the relevance of what they are learning in school. Working this way exposes young people to diverse careers, and helps them understand how they can apply knowledge in different ways. Teachers have reported that students show a greater interest in their schoolwork and that relationships between teachers and students improve. A UK study found that students who reported four or more business interactions at school were five times less likely to be ‘Not in Education, Employment or Training’ (NEET)4. Schools, teachers and companies need to join forces to prepare young people to become resilient and better prepared for the future. We therefore need to move from traditional learning approaches to student-focused, and hands-on programs where business-education partnership are the norm.
The welfare of our communities depends on how well people and organisations can adapt to our fast-changing environment. Let’s not forget that the younger generation is also a growing source of knowledge and experience when it comes to digital skills, social media and the use of new technologies in general. We can’t lose them to unemployment. For instance, our 2016 European Company of the Year champions developed a subtitles system for dyslexic people last year, and are now expanding their business. Those digital natives used a challenge they faced in their everyday life (in this case a dyslexic little brother) and used technology, as well as their digital experience, in an entrepreneurial way to spur innovation.
A managing director who volunteered in a local entrepreneurship education program said, “I have a lot of faith in this new generation of business builders and in their digital background, which will help them to be creative and innovative. Sure, they are easily distracted. Of course, they will need to turn it up a notch. And oh boy, will they make mistakes. That’s why, in order for them to succeed, it is our job to create the right environment. The kind of environment where they will learn the most from their last mistake, where ‘actions’ are greater than ‘intentions’, where creativity is encouraged and where commitment is key”.
To that end, we need more entrepreneurial teachers, entrepreneurial employees and, yes, more young entrepreneurs.
Want to find out more?Listen to this HPE Gives Podcastin which Caroline speaks passionately about the critical role the business community and volunteers play in helping Jr. Achievement attain its goals. Learn more about entrepreneurship education at www.jaeurope.org
Caroline Jenner became involved with Junior Achievement in the early 90’s as a volunteer in Slovakia. Now based in Brussels, Caroline is the CEO of JA Europe. Besides working with the large JA network, Caroline contributes to EU policy work and expert groups on entrepreneurship education and as a speaker and panelist.
1 OECD, Policy Brief on Youth Entrepreneurship, 2015