THE BLOG

Are We Wasting Entrepreneurship Education on the Young?

17/02/2014 13:15 GMT | Updated 19/04/2014 10:59 BST

A new report from the All Party Parliamentary Group for Micro Business has called for better integration of entrepreneurial skills at all levels of education. It's a good report that suggests combining the best of Government, academia, the business community and charitable initiatives to achieve a coordinated programme.

The report's recommendations include supporting the development of an overarching strategy looking at enterprise education from primary school to retirement needs, based on providing clear opportunities at all levels of education and for work returners.

Other suggestions include all higher education courses offering enterprise modules and support for teachers to encourage them to engage with the business community. It's also suggested that OFSTED assessments should take into account schools' engagement with business, as well as community engagement.

Additionally, the report outlines that the business community should be incentivised to be more actively involved in enterprise and entrepreneurship education by allowing time and expenses spent on engaging in enterprise education to be offset against tax.

I'm rather cynical about whether entrepreneurship can really be taught and also about whether we are creating a youth entrepreneurship culture that could be accused of encouraging young people to think that starting a business is an 'easy option'. For me, the jury is out as to whether enterprise education really can increase pupils' employability or their desire to start their own business.

Of course it's vital that young people are prepared in school to be resilient, innovative and creative, and achieving a greater synthesis between academic and enterprise learning surely can't help but prepare them for a more challenging global employment market. Similarly, as the best way of learning to run a business is to actually run one, gaining exposure to the practical realities can only help to unlock entrepreneurial talent.

However, for me, what's most welcome in this report is its focus on life-long learning. We all know the hype around the handful of thriving young entrepreneurs, but it's a fact that most successful entrepreneurs will start in their 40s, and life experience is important - class-room training alone isn't going to be enough. I was 33 when I started my business, but I still had a good 10 years work experience under my belt and some solid professional training, and I'm grateful for it.

In 2009, Duke University scholar Vivek Wadhwa studied 549 successful technology ventures and concluded that not only was the average age of a successful entrepreneur 40, but twice as many successful entrepreneurs are over 50 as under 25. He also found that 50% have more than 10 years experience when they create their first start up. Similar data from the Kauffman Foundation indicates that the highest rate of entrepreneurship in America has shifted to the 55-64 age group, with people over 55 almost twice as likely to found successful companies than those between 20 and 34.

I think that a focus on the mid-career first time entrepreneur is an interesting one. I have several friends and colleagues that, having spent the last 20 years working in jobs that they are no longer finding rewarding, are starting to turn their attention to career options that matter to them. They're looking for purposeful work that counts and can add value.

An enterprise education for the mid-career worker that integrates previous work experience with education, mentoring and funding deserves exploring. A mid-career change into entrepreneurship is surely an interesting campaign and I wonder if the focus of enterprise education should be in this area, rather than so much emphasis on the school or college leaver?

After all, when a start up goes well, not only can it add something to the world, it also creates jobs for the school and university leavers that we all so want to support. One of my proudest achievements this year is that my own enterprise Cause4 has created 30 jobs for graduates and school leavers. Perhaps this is the ultimate outcome of entrepreneurship education, as well as giving back? I can't help but wonder if entrepreneurship education is wasted on the young...