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Education Wales Opinion Piece
20 Dec 2007
Opinion piece for Education Wales
By Phil Cooper, Managing Director, Venture Wales
A recent report shows that young people in Wales are slow to start their own businesses. The problem – and the answer - lies in the education system says Phil Cooper, Managing Director of business support agency Venture Wales.
Concerning data from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor report for 2006 shows that young people in Wales, whilst having the highest aspirations of enterprise are the least likely to be within the early stages of starting a business.
This alarming finding should sound a warning bell for us all. The very lifeblood of our economy depends on us cultivating the next generation of entrepreneurs. Wales needs an army of sharp business-minded ‘doers’ who can start successful companies, generate wealth and create a robust enterprise economy.
So what is stopping our creative young people from venturing into enterprise? The GEM report found that the key barrier for many young people is lack of confidence in their own skills.
With an increasing number of studies suggesting that you can train people in the skills required for starting and running a successful business, there is a strong argument for enterprise education being embedded into the school curriculum well before the stage when students can choose to study business studies at GCSE or A level.
In my role I regularly encounter people who despite being labelled failures by the educational establishment have gone on to run multi-million pound businesses. These people have a sharpness and business acumen that they certainly didn’t inherit from the school system.
While this proves that qualifications aren’t necessary to become a successful entrepreneur, that isn’t to say that entrepreneurial skills could not be taught to our young people in a more systematic manner. Policymakers and educationalists need to tackle this issue head on and explore ways of incorporating holistic enterprise training into the education system from primary level upwards.
Whilst problem solving, decision-making and management skills are covered by the Young Enterprise scheme, we should be equipping our children with the confidence and emotional tools that are critical to success and to dealing with failure. We also need to give our children better communication skills and instil in them the importance of relationship building, selling yourself and persuasion techniques.
It is worrying how many young people come through our doors that struggle with basic business mathematics or lack communication skills. But beyond these basic building blocks we need to be looking at emotional intelligence, and teaching our young people how to better deal with the uncertainty and complexity that are inherent parts of the business world. We have to teach them about spotting and validating opportunities and about applying logic to an uncertain world.
Another key trait that is essential in business but not so prevalent in schools these days is a spirit of competitiveness. There has been a shift in focus from competing to ‘taking part’ which means that young people aren’t regularly exposed to competitive situations and the self-discipline and teamwork necessary to put up a winning performance.
If the Welsh economy is to flourish and we are to compete on a global scale, we have to harness the energy, creativity and imagination of our young people and arm them with the necessary skills to become successful entrepreneurs.
It is essential that the educational establishment and the Welsh Assembly Government work in partnership to examine how best to make the next generation a motivated, educated and enterprising one. By tackling this issue from grass roots level in the schools system we can achieve this whilst making a real difference to the existing lives and future potential of young people in Wales.