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Challenging Time for Young People

The word ‘NEET’ has dominated the newspaper headlines of the past year. As the economy wavers and the job market toughens, a generation of young people have been confronted with a growing gap between education and work, which has prevented many from taking those first steps into the world of work. As the number of NEETs approaches one million, a recent report from the Work Foundation – ‘Lost in Transition’ – has revealed the true extent of the problem. Not only do young people face limited job opportunities, but they have also been poorly equipped to grasp them when they arise.

As the market shifts towards service orientated industries, the ability to demonstrate teamwork, communication and creativity, has become a crucial signpost for employers looking to build an effective workforce. A lack of exposure to working life, combined with limited opportunities to develop these skills, has left young people without the tools to grasp the first rung of the ladder. Recent school leavers and graduates have become trapped in a closed loop – they need to gain a job to get the skills, but also need to gain the skills to get the job.
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What can be done

As the report author, Paul Sissons, concludes, the job prospects of future generations will depend on nurturing these skills at an earlier stage, with ‘consistent support and effective co-ordination of services across local government, schools, employers and the third sector.’ A collaborative effort is required to build those crucial bridges which connect the different stages of a young person’s life. As a third sector organisation, working in partnership with schools and businesses, Enabling Enterprise has started to lay the foundations.

As teachers, we believe education has a crucial role in preparing students for working life, but we also recognise the pressure faced by schools to focus on the here-and-now of examined qualifications, rather than look to the world beyond the classroom. The pressure to meet targets and tick boxes means broader opportunities for personal growth can be pushed to the side lines.

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Enabling Enterprise’s Contribution

Our solution is simple – rather than creating an artificial divide between ‘working skills’ and ‘academic skills’ – we seek to embed leadership, teamwork, communication and creativity into the curriculum at both primary and secondary school. We use enterprise to stretch learning towards new horizons which build on the connections between school and the real world. By working together on extended projects, our students experience an active form of education, which cannot be recreated in a textbook. Gaining ownership over your work, applying knowledge in practical scenarios, and being free to collaborate, create, and voice your ideas, can provide a space for personal development which is both academic and skills based.

An example can illustrate the impact of this ‘hands on’ approach to education much more effectively. Over the past year, we have been working with Year 5 students at Brackenbury Primary School in London, who have been working in teams to research, design and produce an ecological toy. For the students, enterprise brought new life to environmental issues, as one pupil said, ‘it’s amazing how fun it can make school.’ As well as providing an enjoyable and unusual experience, enterprise can have a significant impact on pupils as thinkers and workers.

Many people assume ‘kids will be kids’ and do not expect 10 year olds to organise themselves, let alone negotiate fairly with others, develop realistic goals, or reflect critically on their work. Nonetheless, the right environment can change everything, as the teacher observed. The programme had a significant impact on the students, who in a matter of months, could confidently contribute and share original ideas, delegate responsibilities, confront and overcome practical challenges, and deliver an engaging presentation before an audience.
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Tangible Results

Enterprise can bridge the skills developed in school with the skills required for employment, but the bridge becomes more secure when businesses open their doors to young learners. When the students from Brackenbury wrote letters to Hamleys persuading them to invest in their toys, they were invited to a VIP tour of the London store and to present their own ideas. As they wandered through the dazzling array of toys, the students saw much more than a potential birthday present. Each toy was evidence of how an experience in the classroom could translate into aspirations for future life.

The current absence of skills based learning has left many young people in a limbo of uncertainty. The Work Foundation has highlighted the obstacles facing ‘NEETS’ and effective solutions must be developed to empower young people and dismantle the current job market blockade. Nevertheless, as the forecasts for economic growth remain bleak, we must also develop a longer term vision to prevent the next generations from falling into the same trap.

At Enabling Enterprise, we believe enterprising learning can give all students the skills, experiences and aspirations for success. Through providing opportunities in the present, we are laying the foundations for the future. With coordinated effort, we can finally create a secure bridge between education and employment, so no more young people are lost in the transition.

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