The Guardian say that young people are “rapidly losing faith in their ability to achieve their goals in life”, and the official figures released by the government show that the number of young people who are not in education, employment or training (NEET) is rising again. Evidence suggests that among this, youth unemployment is particularly affecting young BAME groups, who are twice as likely to be unemployed. Plus, of all students, our disadvantaged students (around 28%) are more likely to have lower aspirations and self-confidence than other students.
None of this is surprising when students move through education with an increasing focus on their final performance at KS4 and a perceived lack of work experience, “The students make all the decisions.”along with a public image portrayed by many UK workers that they are unhappy in their employment. For schools facing increasing financial and staffing pressures, needing to reduce their provision of extracurricular and enrichment opportunities, the news about lack of aspiration and faith in their future is worrying; it’s even more of a reason for education to engage in opportunities to tackle these issues head on.
I am incredibly proud to be a local volunteer board member for Young Enterprise, a national charity whose mission is to motivate young people to succeed in the changing world of work by equipping them with the skills, knowledge and confidence they need to be successful. Having worked with Young Enterprise teams at my school for the last four years, I have seen the impact that the programme can have on young people and encourage every school to consider how they can interact with their incredible work.
Young Enterprise Programmes
One of the flagship programmes run by Young Enterprise is the ‘Company Programme’, where teams of students at KS4 and KS5 (our school offers Company Programme to Year 10 and Year 12 students) set up and run a student company across an academic year. The students make all the decisions, from deciding the company name and product, to selling their products at public trade fairs and managing their finance, marketing and operations as they progress. The programme provides students with real life experiences that enrich and develop learning from a wide range of subject areas. Teams that I have worked with over recent years have created marbled mugs, DIY bird boxes, greetings cards, scented candles and even provided a green screen photo opportunity. This is the top of the iceberg, as teams from across the country produce incredible businesses.
Young Enterprise also offers schools the opportunities to engage with the Tenner Challenge (a condensed version of the Company Programme, run over a month for students to make as much money as possible from just £10), Employability Masterclasses and a range of engaging events for students to learn about finance and employability.
Insight into the world of work
Young Enterprise isn’t just about students engaging in programmes in schools. At the heart of everything that Young Enterprise offers are its volunteers, who come from an incredibly wide range of industries, bringing a plethora of business knowledge and related expertise. Young people get the opportunity to meet and be supported by volunteers who are experienced, passionate and influential individuals in their respective industries. Not only does this help students achieve success in the programmes offered by Young Enterprise, but it gives students opportunities to learn about potential career opportunities beyond education.
For me, the interactions between young people and their business advisors is perhaps the most important element of Young Enterprise programmes. Students at Wheatley Park School have been incredibly lucky to work with four incredible business advisors since we started participating. We’ve worked with a senior designer, a self-employed financial advisor, an incredible photographer and business owner, and a senior leader from an FTSE 250 builders merchants. These people have challenged our students perceptions of the world of work, helped to increase their communication skills, and demonstrated leadership. Most of all, though, they have shown compassion and determination to young people who have heaps of potential which is not always realised.
Young Enterprise truly gives young people the opportunity to interact with people outside of their usual social circles. The young man in the image below would never have spoken to a town mayor without participating in Young Enterprise, let alone had the confidence to joke and laugh with one. At the end of their discussion, Chris Woodward, the Mayor of Witney, allowed this particular student to wear his chain. Interactions like this can change students’ views on life, allowing them to see the possibilities of what they can achieve in the future. That, after all, is why any of us are in education.
Reasons to take part
95% of young people who have participated in Young Enterprise programmes have said that they felt their self-esteem, ability to problem-solve and resilience had improved. 82% of the students said that their ability to identify their own strengths and weaknesses had improved. 81% of students who participated in the Company Programme improved their own understanding of how to manage money. Nearly 75% of students felt that after taking part, and particularly meeting their business advisor, they had a greater understanding and awareness of the world of work outside of education.
Oscar, a previous participant in Young Enterprise from Wheatley Park, said it helped him to “get an idea of a workspace and to organise a team with an actual aim of “Students from wealthier families are less likely to face some aspiration barriers.”producing a product to make money. [He] really enjoyed the whole process, and it has helped [him] to make [his] CV stand out from the crowd”. Another student who I spoke to at a recent Young Enterprise trade fair said: “It's shown us that teamwork is really important in both making and developing the product, and it's certainly given us skills we wouldn't have otherwise gained without taking part”. Another said “I'm studying economics at school but it's the theory side of things, and this has given me valuable skills I wouldn't have got in the classroom”.
I’ve personally seen Young Enterprise make a significant difference to students. Most notable for me has been seeing their ability to communicate and interact with people who they wouldn’t have otherwise met. Seeing a student stand in the middle of a town centre and approach members of the public with increasing confidence fills you with pride.
Every teacher and headteacher I’ve ever spoken to about Young Enterprise has been positive about the potential benefits, yet there are so many schools who don’t provide these amazing opportunities for their students. Of particular concern for me is the number of state schools who pass up the opportunity, not to mention the impact this can have on students. Right or wrong, we know that students who come from wealthier families are less likely to face the same barriers of career aspiration as their less well-off peers. State schools engaging in Young Enterprise (or similar programmes) is a crucial step to changing the figures I started this article with. I won’t pretend that there isn’t a necessary commitment from a member of staff in the school to support the programme for students, but it is so worth it when you see the impact on young people.
If you work in a school and have any interest in supporting youth aspiration, I’d urge you to reach out to your local Young Enterprise teams. Social media is a great starting place. You can follow @yeoxfordshire on Twitter for updates on the Oxfordshire Young Enterprise events, and @youngenterprise to follow national news, or just visit www.young-enterprise.org.uk for more information. Visit a trade fair, head along to a local area showcase, speak to colleagues in other schools - just get involved!
To the headteachers and senior leaders reading this: I urge you to be innovative in making opportunities like Young Enterprise happen for your students. I do appreciate that you will need to find the budget for this, and you need a member of staff to support it, but please, find a way. Will it directly influence your Progress 8 score? Probably not - but it will help you in building a culture of resilience, self-esteem and confidence among your students. That can only have a positive impact.
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