This is a guest blog from Lauren Pennycook. Lauren is a Policy Officer at the Carnegie UK Trust. The Carnegie UK Trust was established by Scots-American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie in 1913 and works to improve the lives of people throughout the UK and Ireland, by influencing policy, and by changing lives through innovative practice and partnership work.
At last, youth unemployment is starting to fall. Latest figures confirm that the unemployment rate for 16 to 24 year olds is down one percentage point compared to the previous quarter, and 0.8 percentage points from 2013. But the issue of youth unemployment remains significant and complex and for some, the new figures are not automatically a reason to celebrate.
Youth unemployment is a multi-layered debate with many ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ quickly following the data. For some it is not the number of jobs being filled by young people that is important, but if these are decent jobs. For others, it is about if young people themselves are prepared for the world of work and fully able and willing to take advantage of these opportunities, compared to more experienced workers .
Research conducted by YouGov at the end of last year found that just 19% of business leaders believed that all or most graduate recruits were ready for the 21st century workplace. More than half said that in their experience, all or almost all graduates started work without skills such as the ability to work in a team, communicate effectively, and to work under pressure. Meanwhile, the British Chambers of Commerce have recently raised concerns about college leavers’ attitudes and expectations of the world of work.
So what can governments across the UK and Ireland do to help address some of these challenges and perceptions? More and more, governments in the UK and Ireland are investing in enterprise education in our schools, colleges and universities - a strategic decision that goes beyond creating the businesses of the future. It is about instilling students with skills which will benefit them in whichever career path they pursue, from business to banking, from teaching to a trade.
And government support for opportunities to develop entrepreneurial skills is increasingly available outside the classroom. For example, last month the Scottish Government announced the creation of the Youth Scottish EDGE Fund to support the next generation of entrepreneurs aged 18 – 25 to turn their ideas into new businesses. Two weeks later, the Irish Minister for Small Business, John Perry T.D launched the Enterprise Ireland Student Entrepreneur Awards competition with a prize fund of cash and consultancy on offer.
But there is always more that can be done. While these efforts are to be commended, we need to be better at sharing our experiences about what works in this space with our fellow policymakers and practitioners across the UK and Ireland. Our own research found that there is a demand for more sharing of evidence across the jurisdictions, and the Carnegie UK Trust is now encouraging enterprise policymakers and practitioners to learn from the success of Wales in equipping young people with entrepreneurial skills.
Why are we urging policymakers and practitioners to learn from Wales? Interviews with practitioners of enterprise education in Wales found that having consistent opportunities to learn about and experience enterprise through the Welsh Youth Entrepreneurship Strategy is raising students’ aspirations, improving their skills such as sales, networking and marketing, and supporting more graduate start-ups than anywhere else in the UK and Ireland.
Last week I attended the Global Entrepreneurship Challenge Cymru (GEC) national heat, just one of many enterprise challenges and competitions available for students in Wales to take part in from primary to higher education. At the GEC, college teams were tasked with launching a sustainable social enterprise within their college which both addressed a local need and could be scaled up and delivered across Wales. Nineteen teams worked over 24 hours to develop a business idea, work out a cash flow plan and marketing strategy, and then pitch these to a panel of judges. All of the participants demonstrated excellent teamwork and communication skills, and most visibly, enthusiasm, a positive attitude and maturity beyond their years.
While only the winning team took home the trophy, all of the participants took home skills which made them more employable and ready for the workplace of the future. Whether these young people pursue a career as an entrepreneur, or are enterprising in an existing workplace, the Welsh Government’s commitment to enterprise education and the provision of opportunities for experiential learning is creating highly skilled workers for the future economy. In order to prepare our young people for the global race in sectors and industries that we may not even know about yet, there is much we can learn from this entrepreneurial Welsh Dragon.
See here for more information about the RSA's work on youth enterprise.