16/10/2014 05:31 BST | Updated 15/12/2014 05:59 GMT

Talking Young Enterprise at the Party Conferences

This year I attended both the Conservative and Labour Party conferences in my capacity as Chief Executive of the charity Young Enterprise.‭ ‬It‭'‬s now a couple of weeks since the conferences and I‭'‬ve had time to digest and reflect not only on‭ ‬what‭ ‬was achieved there but also‭ ‬where‭ ‬it was achieved.‭ ‬When you go to a conference it becomes apparent very quickly that the real business goes on around the fringe and I found the‭ ‬'offline‭'‬ conversations and connections very useful.‭ ‬In fact some seasoned veterans of the conference circuit told me that they had never been in to hear a political speech.‭ ‬All the most insightful,‭ ‬productive work goes on outside the main conference hall.‭

On Young Enterprise business,‭ ‬whether I was speaking with politicians,‭ ‬business folk or fellow charity colleagues,‭ ‬there is no doubt that everyone recognises the urgent need to equip young people with the skills they need to get and hold down a‭ ‬suitable‭ ‬job and to make them financially literate.‭ ‬Strong academic results‭ ‬alone‭ ‬are not the only route to success.‭ ‬What we need now is‭ ‬cohesive‭ ‬action from politicians,‭ ‬businesses and educators to realise and support the changes needed in schools,‭ ‬colleges and universities.

There was also formal business to‭ ‬carry out.‭ ‬I spoke on a‭ ‬few‭ ‬panels and was joined by friends from the CIPD,‭ ‬UK Youth,‭ ‬The Children‭'‬s Society,‭ ‬Sir Hector Sants and MPs including Rushanara Ali,‭ ‬Mark Garnier,‭ ‬Justin Tomlinson,‭ ‬Robin Walker and Barry Sherman.‭ ‬Even‭ ‬'online‭'‬ there is firm agreement from all parties that the skills gap is real and needs addressing.‭ ‬Yes, having financial education on the curriculum is a positive step forward,‭ ‬but‭ ‬there is‭ ‬also‭ ‬a significant‭ ‬'disconnect‭'‬ with the fact that enterprise education was taken off the curriculum in‭ ‬2012.‭

The important work done by Justin Tomlinson and Mark Garnier on the All Party Parliamentary Group‭ (‬APPG‭) ‬for financial education is not over,‭ ‬in fact it is just beginning.‭ ‬We need to ensure that financial education is delivered in an engaging and interesting way to get teachers and students behind it.‭ ‬That‭'‬s where Young Enterprise,‭ ‬now incorporating the Personal Finance Education Group‭ (‬pfeg‭) ‬comes in.‭ ‬We know that by linking financial education with our enterprise‭ '‬Learning by‭ ‬Doing'‭ ‬schemes, like Fiver, Tenner,‭ and the ‬Company Programme‬,‭ ‬we can show students‭ ‬first‭ ‬how to earn some money and then how to look after it.‭ ‬If they have worked their‭ ‬socks off to‭ ‬earn a couple of hundred pounds of their own money,‭ ‬we know‭ ‬that this‭ ‬hands-on experience will‭ ‬provide‭ ‬more‭ ‬'skin in the game‭'‬ than learning how to manage money‭ ‬out of a textbook.

It is crucial to have more joined-up,‭ ‬long-term thinking for‭ ‬us to make real progress in the skills and financial literacy arena.‭ ‬All sides and sectors agree that young people do not have the softer skills‭ ‬and attitudes‭ ‬that employers are screaming for‭ ‬- teamwork,‭ ‬communication,‭ ‬creativity,‭ ‬problem solving and resilience to name‭ ‬the‭ five ‬that Young Enterprise is focusing on.‭ ‬Yet everyone is promoting apprenticeships,‭ ‬for which they are fundamental.‭ ‬To make a real and lasting impact we need to go further and embed the teaching of these key skills across the‭ ‬education system,‭ ‬starting in primary schools as Lord Young‭'‬s‭ ‬'Enterprise For All‭'‬ report recommends.‭

The conferences also made me think about how,‭ ‬no matter how capable and dedicated our political leaders‭ ‬are,‭ ‬even‭ ‬a 'dream team' of‭ ‬cross-party‭ ‬MPs wouldn‭'‬t‭ ‬alone‭ ‬help young people get the high-quality enterprise education they need to create a‭ ‬prosperous‭ ‬future for‭ ‬themselves and‭ ‬the UK.‭ ‬Unlike many core subjects on the curriculum,‭ ‬teaching enterprise takes more than a blackboard,‭ ‬a textbook and a great teacher.‭ ‬Enterprise is a practical,‭ ‬hands-on subject.‭ ‬Yes,‭ ‬in the classroom you can teach children how businesses operate,‭ ‬about company structure,‭ ‬customers and profit,‭ ‬but to create the next generation of entrepreneurs and prepare‭ ‬young people‭ ‬for the world of work,‭ ‬they need to apply these skills to a real business.‭ For that, we‬ need‭ ‬business mentors,‭ ‬usually from the school‭'‬s local community,‭ ‬to‭ ‬share their good and bad experiences with students‭ ‬and to bridge the‭ ‬'scary‭'‬ gap between education and employment.‭ ‬The buy-in and pro-active support of business leaders,‭ ‬schools‭ ‬and the‭ ‬local‭ ‬community is therefore the‭ ‬crucial‭ ‬active ingredient to political will.

If we get this mix working,‭ ‬together they‭ ‬could push forward the‭ ‬skills‭ ‬agenda and create an environment that‭ ‬embeds‭ ‬enterprise education‭ ‬within the‭ ‬system.‭ ‬Over one million Young Enterprise alumni have risen to the very top in all sectors from‭ ‬politics,‭ ‬banking and transport,‭ ‬engineering and technology,‭ ‬sports and the creative industries.‭ ‬We know the mix works.‭ ‬Yes,‭ ‬this is all‭ ‬highly aspirational but it is‭ ‬also‭ ‬highly doable.‭ ‬It‭ ‬also‭ ‬serves to remind us that politicians‭ ‬can‭ ‬never‭ ‬deliver‭ ‬all‭ ‬the‭ ‬answers.‭ ‬To‭ ‬deliver‭ ‬real lasting change we need to look beyond the traditional boundaries,‭ ‬learn from those who have built successful businesses and dare to think outside the box. 'Learning by Doing', indeed!