The UK is fast becoming the “self-employment capital” of Western Europe with the number of people choosing to be their own boss increasing by eight per cent over the past year according to the IPPR think-tank – faster than in any other Western European country.
This sends a clear message that the nature of employment in the UK is changing rapidly. The responsibility of helping to create a new generation of entrepreneurs and a better prepared future workforce falls to teachers and educators, who need to equip their students with the knowledge and, perhaps more importantly, the attitude to face this new landscape.
Teachers have a pivotal role to play in ensuring that their students leave education with the character and skills they will need in this “brave new world”, not just for those who wish to set up their own business, but for those entering a new era of employment where working for a large corporation – where compliance and uniformity were celebrated – is no longer the norm.
Small and medium enterprises account for 99.9 per cent of all private sector businesses in the UK, according to the Federation of Small Businesses, and yet over a third of smaller UK companies are struggling to recruit employees with the necessary skills to help their businesses grow.
Enterprise-focused traits such as resilience, taking the initiative, risk-taking and personal self-belief are vital to embed in students to help them make the transition from education to the world of work.
I established The Entrepreneurial Education Group (TEEG) to help bridge this gap. We work closely with OCR as a strategic partner to help education centres swiftly and easily incorporate entrepreneurship and enterprise into their curriculum.
As Charlotte Bosworth, director of skills and employment at OCR, said: “Young people need the opportunity to find out about what it is to be entrepreneurial as well as to consider what skills are needed to succeed within employment. Being entrepreneurial isn’t just about starting a business; it is the mindsets and skills that will breed success in whatever a student decides to do.”
School leaders have an important role to play in ensuring teachers fully embrace enterprising attitudes and mindsets and embedding the development of character, resilience and self-belief within the school culture.
A student’s educational experience needs to encompass character development alongside skills progression and the importance of these attributes needs to be recognised and promoted.
The impetus for encouraging these skills needs to come from teachers and needs to be imparted in a convincing way.
Ms Bosworth added: “We need to develop teachers to be able to recognise these skills and qualities and to engage with them as they are only likely to really take on board some of these issues if they believe there is real benefit.
“Teachers need to recognise these entrepreneurial skills within themselves in order to deliver active and engaging experiences to students. They need to do this with direct support from organisations and employers.”
Highlighted below are four key areas schools need to consider as they embed a more enterprising mindset in their curriculum, along with some suggestions of how to achieve this:
Perhaps one of the most fundamental attitudes for both business and personal success, students need to leave full-time education with a robust but realistic belief in their own abilities.
The first step for teachers is to provide students with the opportunity to focus on identifying and expressing their own skills, experience and interests. Whether through setting specific assignments or finding opportunities within other lessons, students should be encouraged to consider, discuss and write down their own characteristics including business skills, competencies, attitudes, personality traits and aspirations.
Aim to encourage an environment in which students can talk openly – and proudly – about their achievements, skills and qualifications while also having the self-awareness to identify skills and qualification gaps, and where they hope to focus their further training.
Taking initiative, making independent decisions and being proactive about making things happen should definitely be encouraged for students, who will soon be entering a workplace where it is no longer enough for employees simply to react and adapt to changes in their environment.
Today’s business owners and employees need to know how to plan ahead and take the initiative to both protect their own position and help grow a business.
In order to be able to take the initiative, students first need to have confidence in their own judgement and ideas. They need the opportunity to see that their ideas can work.
I place great importance on work experience and/or giving students the opportunity to have their ideas implemented in the real world so they can see how an idea conceived in the classroom can actually succeed in a business environment. They need to know that they can take initiative and that their ideas are valid.
Going into unfamiliar territory is a healthy challenge and giving students the opportunity to test themselves within the secure confines of the educational environment gives them a soft landing when needed.
Helping students understand that risk is an integral part of business life needs to be encouraged by teachers, along with practical techniques for helping them to identify obstacles, work out worst case scenarios and plans of action, and consider any consequences in advance.
Enterprise days, practical challenges and risk-taking tasks will help students to have more confidence in their own abilities and give them a chance to practise their contingency planning skills in a safe environment.
Resilience/attitude to failure
Dealing with failure is one of the most important lessons in life and while the traditional academic system clearly delineates success (passing exams, achieving good grades etc) as positive and failure as something to be avoided, teachers should perhaps be encouraged to offer an alternative idea that failure, while not encouraged, is a harsh fact of life and can actually provide valuable feedback.
By failing, students learn quickly what doesn’t work. Failure needs to be re-framed as an integral part of the learning process. Analysis into why something didn’t work needs to be prioritised and introduced into the classroom in a methodical and structured way and teachers need to challenge existing attitudes – both students’ and their own – about how to react to failure.
By addressing these four areas and prioritising the development of character, resilience, strong mindsets and wellbeing, we can embed entrepreneurial skills within our school culture. Provision needs to engage and enable learners to build on these qualities through individualised pathways as well as progressing with English, numeracy and ICT where need is identified.
Character development should take place alongside skills progression and in this way, teachers can help students to handle the evolving demands of the workplace and pave the way for a new generation of entrepreneurs and a better prepared future workforce.
Carly Ward is CEO of the Entrepreneurial Education Group, an organisation established to create closer alignment between business and education.