Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

We Must Help Students to Take off in Business

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

We Must Help Students to Take off in Business

Article excerpt

In this time of high unemployment, colleges should encourage young people to spread their wings through enterprise

Back in 1982, when youth unemployment had become a problem in a similar way to now, I had a fascinating role in the Manpower Services Commission, working on pilots for the Youth Training Scheme. On a visit to a small factory in the West Country, I watched a young school-leaver in the quality-control department calculate variances and plot charts with ease. His supervisor told me that despite having no O-levels he had picked it up in a few days. As I saw then - and time and again over a number of months - many only learn when they see the purpose of their lessons. The fourth R is relevance.

A year or so later, I introduced the Technical and Vocational Educational Initiative, a programme that gave schools their first computer-controlled lathes and other technology. I am proud to say that from time to time I come across those who took part in this initiative and it remains remarkable how it motivated young people, especially those who had shown little interest in their lessons until then.

Jump forward many years to 2010, when prime minister David Cameron asked me to join the coalition government to continue these efforts. During my work as adviser on enterprise, I began to realise just how transformational the internet had become - not just with regard to the way we communicate but in its effect on how businesses do business. One consequence is the blossoming of ultra-small companies. Today, just over 19 out of 20 businesses employ fewer than 10 people. Self-employment is rising and a survey by the Royal Society for the Arts reveals that 82 per cent of people who are self-employed find their work more meaningful than a typical job.

My Enterprise For All report (published last month) looks at this issue and explores how we can put enterprise at the heart of our education system. To succeed in a business world that has changed beyond recognition, young people need qualities that qualifications alone cannot provide. What is more, they must be helped to see the relevance of their studies to their future livelihoods, as entrepreneurs or employees.

This is as pertinent for primary schools as it is for universities, but the front line of the enterprise imperative in education is in further education colleges.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of young people emerge from the college system, forming a large part of the talent supply for the UK's legion of small and growing companies. Many acquire highly employable skills, but what they do not get is the experience or training that will enable them to start working for themselves. …

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