Enabling Enterprise
Lauren Pennycook, Policy Officer at the Carnegie UK Trust, writes about the need to learn from best practice in enterprise education across the UK and Ireland

Despite differences in party politics and priorities, governments across the UK and Ireland have a common goal – to create new and meaningful employment opportunities for young people. With local economies having changed beyond recognition, governments understand that they can no longer depend on very large, traditional employers to provide lifelong jobs for young people in their communities. With limited opportunities to influence employers, governments are now aiming to influence the aspirations and attitudes of young people themselves, and from an earlier age than ever before.

Enterprise Education

But how can young people have an impact on the economy? Well, by developing entrepreneurial skills at school, college and university, they can shape it. From formal business lessons to informal enterprise competitions and challenges, enterprise education is being expanded in national curriculums across the UK and Ireland, but in different ways, at different rates, and with different levels of success. In England, Enabling Enterprise have been working with over 150 schools to embed enterprise skills into the curriculum. They have been developing lesson time projects and challenge days as well as giving students the opportunity to apply these skills on trips to top businesses. In Ireland, the Minister for Small Business, John Perry T.D, recently launched The Enterprise Ireland Student Entrepreneur Awards with prize money, consultancy and mentoring on offer for older student entrepreneurs.

Enabling Enterprise

Limited Sharing of Success

Opportunities for young people to try out enterprise and develop their entrepreneurial skills are to be welcomed, but there appears to be limited sharing of evidence and information across the jurisdictions of the UK and Ireland on what has proven to work well. This is despite there being an appetite to share more public policy learning across borders, according to research published by the Carnegie UK Trust. The example set by organisations such as Enabling Enterprise, which work not only across academic subjects but also across jurisdictions, is therefore highly important. And if we could choose one jurisdiction in particular that enterprise practitioners and policymakers can learn from, it would be Wales.

The Welsh Dragon: the success of enterprise education in Wales

The Welsh Government has developed a dedicated Youth Entrepreneurship Strategy which, when delivered by Big Ideas Wales, engages young people with entrepreneurship, empowers them with opportunities to experience enterprise, and equips them with support to create and grow their own businesses. From an early age, young people are made aware of entrepreneurship and business start-up as possible career paths through the Role Models programme in which local, relatable entrepreneurs deliver workshops in schools, colleges and universities. There are also a range of opportunities to take part in enterprise challenges and competitions such as the Enterprise Troopers Primary School Competition right through to the Global Entrepreneurship Challenge in further education. Young entrepreneurs are then equipped with the knowledge and skills to start their own business. Students can take part in extra-curricular courses such as Enterprise by Design which allow them to experience the process of receiving a product brief to designing it for a client, and can take part in the Big Ideas Wales Challenge which provides a personalised package of support to help 16 to 24 year olds to start their own business. This is in addition to the support available through the Welsh Government start-up service, which provides a series of workshops and access to business advice, and financial assistance such as the Graduate Start Up Bursary and the Young Entrepreneurs Bursary.

Creating the next generation of entrepreneurs

While consistently providing opportunities to learn about and take part in enterprise is commendable itself, it is the impact of the Strategy which makes the Welsh approach to enterprise education a valuable case study for policymakers in other parts of the UK and Ireland. From our own research, there appears to be three key ways in which the Strategy is having an impact on young people in Wales. Firstly, taking part in enterprise challenges and competitions is raising young peoples’ confidence and aspirations. Secondly, the entrepreneurial skills of young people, such as sales, marketing and networking, are being developed through consistent exposure to enterprise. Finally, improved confidence levels, aspirations and entrepreneurial skills are resulting in more young people in Wales pursuing business start-up compared to their counterparts in other jurisdictions of the UK and Ireland.

To improve the quality of enterprise education for young people throughout the UK and Ireland and the number of new business start-ups, governments should look beyond borders to learn from the success of youth entrepreneurship in Wales. The Youth Entrepreneurship Strategy has attracted praise from a range of organisations in the field of enterprise education, from the RSA and RBS to the European Commission, and it is time that more policymakers and practitioners learn from the work of this entrepreneurial Welsh Dragon.

Thanks for contributing Lauren, if you’d like to write a guest blog piece or hear more about what we do, Contact Us

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