We need more young people to enter the labour market fully equipped for a life of work, as enterprising first-time employees. Current employers - 70 per cent of them according to a CBI survey - do not think that school leavers are sufficiently ready for the world of work. In a recent report by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI), 75 per cent of employers said that they want more employees with professional qualifications to bridge the gap they see in management and leadership skills. But all is not lost. Government and business are increasingly working together to plugs the gaps.
A new report from Barclays, written by the Economist Intelligence Unit, stresses that entrepreneurialism "is not an innate trait, but rather something that can be fostered" as long as we get the mix of education, economic opportunities and individual self-confidence right. However, it is stressed, this is not a task for "Government and the school system alone." Lord Young, the Prime Minister's enterprise adviser, agrees with them.
In Lord Young's new paper, "Enterprise for All", he sets out plans to create a lifelong experience of enterprise in education which is captive, continuous and coherent. He calls for enterprise advisers that can forge two-way links between schools and local businesses. This will mean inspirational business leaders spending time in the classroom and, crucially, teachers spending time in business. It also means expanding schemes like "Fiver" whereby primary school children are given £5 and asked to see what they can do with it as a budding value-adding entrepreneur. Perhaps we could also encourage retired, or semi-retired, successful business people into the classroom as full- or part-time teachers - of economics, business studies and related subjects.
But it is not just about the classroom. We need to build on best practice in extra-curricular activities. All Hallows Catholic College in Macclesfield, for example, encourages students to set up small businesses, face a "Dragons Den" style panel of judges and engage with another local business - Manchester United, no less - in finalising their business plans and marketing strategies.
Sadly, findings of a recent study by CMI, the Association of Business Schools and the Quality Assurance Agency, suggests that more businesses need to play their part: "Employers are seeking 'business-ready' graduates but are not doing enough to offer extended, meaningful work experience," they find. While 89% of respondents agreed that business experience, embedded within courses, makes students more employable, only 22% currently offer job placements or internships to such pupils. This has to change. A new culture of enterprise needs a new culture of co-operation between schools, colleges and local businesses.
Apprenticeships and traineeships point to an increasing blurring of the lines between educational establishments and business. We need to keep this momentum up to enhance links between employers and business schools for the best possible management skills base. There also needs to be better links with universities more widely, with further education establishments focusing more on employability and post-graduate routes into employment.
By promoting a culture of enterprise from an early age and throughout life, we can improve productivity in the UK and enhance innovation in the economy. This is not mere book-keeping and 'balance-sheet' politics, it is about social mobility: helping to liberate young people from all backgrounds with transferable skills, employment options and realisable ambitions. For some, self-employment will be the way forward (and the Government is right to be looking to improve course content for that eventuality), while for others, regular employment will be preferred, particularly as a first job. We can help open up these options with a partnership between Government and business. The Government is taking positive strides in this direction. It's time for more businesses to get in step.