Too much, too soon?

Steve HoyleTV programmes such as ‘The Apprentice’ show us examples of would be young entrepreneurs, and television news programmes bring us stories of young people demonstrating entrepreneurial fl air at an earlier and earlier age. During their school’s ‘enterprise week’ recently my daughter and her friends managed to threaten the viability of the school canteen by selling pies from a local bakery to pupils during their lunch break. Indeed, in this and other issues of Lancashire Business View, there are many examples of young entrepreneurs who have gone on to achieve real success.

The Pennine Lancashire ‘No Limits’ programme has now helped to launch more than 800 new businesses. Over 20% of these have been started by people under the age of 25, and young people have been a target group for our promotional activities. So why is there this focus on enterprise in young people?

Undoubtedly the value of entrepreneurs and the small business sector to the UK economy is very important. And at a time of recession we need a constant supply of new small businesses to offset the massive job losses occurring across the economy. Starting a business when leaving school or college is now a viable option for many young people.

But in my view some of this pressure for individual young people to succeed in their own business is unfair. What we should be encouraging in children of school age is entrepreneurial behaviour and entrepreneurial thinking, whether or not this manifests itself in these young people going on to set up their own businesses.

Many programmes have been introduced to encourage enterprise in schools and colleges – over a dozen at the last count. But it is important that we put these in perspective – their aim need not be to turn out hundreds of budding Alan Sugars – their objective should be to encourage young people to be enterprising in their thinking and behaviour. By this I mean such things as independent thinking, confi dence, forward thinking, negotiation skills, creativity, people skills – whilst all of these will equip young people with tools to start up in business, they will also make them better students and better potential employees once they have left school.

I talk to many business managers and signifi cant numbers of them complain about the standard of young people applying for employment. Rather than being focussed on academic achievement, what employers are looking for is young people who can express their ideas, who can be creative, who can talk confi dently, who can work as part of a team. It is these skills that school enterprise programmes need to be encouraging and these are the
outcomes that should be valued, rather than counting the number of pupils who have gone on to start their own businesses.

Steve Hoyle is the commercial director at Elevate.