Personal Character Can't Be Measured By A-levels

07/09/2015 10:12 BST | Updated 04/09/2016 10:59 BST

Every year, in the middle of August, we congratulate young people across the UK for their A-level results. That day's media is packed with stories of success and failure. There is the usual debate about whether the exams are getting easier or harder, coupled with mountains of footage of students opening envelopes and photos of despair and elation. The following day we all go back to normal. Until next year.

A-levels are great things to have but this year I want to break this cycle and turn the spotlight on those young people who didn't do A-levels; those who didn't want to do them; couldn't do them due to their personal circumstances and the ones who weren't considered academic enough to do them. I want to tell them that life does not begin and end with exam results. I want to tell them, and you, that A-levels can measure many things but there is one thing they can't measure; a person's character - their resilience and ability to bounce back from disappointment.

Growing up in Malta, I was determined to be a rock musician. I moved to the UK to pursue that dream. My long-standing bandmates decided not to come with me, so I came to London alone, facing up to the reality of getting a new band together and playing cover versions at the local pub on a wet Wednesday night. I trekked around record companies in between working in a shoe repair shop and reluctantly studying. My new band didn't make it - but it made me. It showed me that you can bounce back from setbacks and disappointment. The main thing is that you have a go. If it doesn't work out as planned, you will at least have tried and you will go into the next thing stronger from your experience. It is a learning process rather than a failure.

This is a hint of the kind of life experience and entrepreneurial determination that just can't be measured by formal exams. But my story is nothing compared to the challenges that many young people overcome, and at Young Enterprise we congratulate and celebrate young people with great character through our Journey Award.

The Journey Award is open to everyone taking part in our Company Programme across the UK. Supported by ASDA, it was introduced in 2014 to recognise and highlight the achievements of young people who have really made the most of their Young Enterprise experience. In my view, the Journey Award measures character. It measures resilience, motivation, drive, ambition and perseverance. It measures the skills employers so desperately want and the skills we need to lead successful, productive lives.

The first winner of the Journey Award was 18-year-old Luke Liddiard from Chertsey in Surrey. Luke was made homeless after a family breakdown. He sofa-surfed and even spent one night sleeping in a garden shed while he did a music production course. Eventually he found a place at a YMCA Hostel.

Luke's youth worker told him about Young Enterprise and our Company Programme. Determined to take part, he set up a business making machine- and hand-tooled gifts out of reclaimed wood. He went on to win multiple awards including Surrey Young Entrepreneur of the Year and the South East Retail Excellence Award.

This year's Journey Award winner is Nahyan Islam. Chronically shy and lacking self-confidence, Nahyan took part in the Company Programme and set up Swift, a male fashion brand rooted in the heart of east London.

In Nahyan's own words: "Before I started Young Enterprise, I was this really shy individual that was afraid of criticism and failure. I really wanted to share my ideas with people, but I just couldn't do it. I had this 'irrational fear. I soon realised that I can't just hide my inner reserves of strength and I needed to find a way of bringing that out of myself.

"Through personal struggles and members of my company having doubts, I kept on believing! You have to believe that eventually you will succeed, even if first you fail and fail again. I am now able to communicate with people with a great deal of confidence and have built my self-worth."

These two young people have character. They have entrepreneurial talents and skills that would not be visible in any exam result.

I firmly believe that if we are to successfully prepare the next generation for the world of work, we must show some strength of character of our own. We - UK businesses, educational organisations and policy makers - must have the grit, determination and perseverance to push ourselves beyond academic grading. We should lead on this, not follow.

We must demonstrate our own ambition and aspiration for every single young person. Now is the time to widen the spotlight to include not only those young people who take A-levels but also those who do not. Let's work together to make character, entrepreneurship, training and financial education key parts of the curriculum. That way, every year we can celebrate the successes of every student, not just those with A-levels. A good start would be the Enterprise Passport that Young Enterprise suggested to Lord Young and was included as one of his key recommendations in his recent 'Enterprise For All Report'. There is a lot of talk about promoting social mobility, or as it was once more crudely phrased, telling people to "get on their bikes". If we want young people to really travel, surely we should give them a passport?