Why you need to pass the baton of entrepreneurship to a new generation

The education and employment of young people is a topic that continues to cause debate in the business world. 

With a new unemployment rate of 14.4 per cent for those aged between 16 to 24, despite significant efforts being made to improve job prospects for school leavers and graduates, there is a growing need for the UK’s business community to work alongside the educational system to inspire and motivate younger people into action.

In contrast to previous generations, today’s millennials have more choice when it comes to starting a career; from company sponsored degrees to apprenticeships to registering their own businesses. 

Entrepreneurialism in particular seems to have become an increasingly attractive option for young people looking to make their mark on the world, with a recent survey showing that one in five aged between 18 to 34 have a business idea.

To what extent these ideas are nurtured to fruition is less easy to determine, but it certainly demonstrates the need for successfully established businesses to impart guidance, share ideas and offer support for the dream of a start-up career to be fully realised.

Being an entrepreneur is an exciting prospect. In 2014, the UK was awarded with the coveted title of Europe’s most entrepreneurial economy, and currently ranks fourth in the entire world. Business performance and productivity is now at peak levels, thanks to the country’s innovative minds producing unique concepts and services that are increasingly using technology to make people’s lives easier, more connected and more convenient.

Much of what is being created is likely to be consumed by our younger generation, so in order to keep the country innovating for years to come, encouraging an entrepreneurial spirit and mindset at an early age is likely to prove fruitful in the long-term.

Inspire the new generation

Harnessing inspiration is easily achieved in today’s modern world. Growing up in an age of technology means that millennials are able to gain instant access to an online wealth of resource and information, which in turn stimulates creativity and knowledge-sharing, opening up a world of opportunity for those shrewd enough to take advantage of it. 

New figures for 2015 have revealed that as many as 52,000 students currently studying undergraduate degrees have set up their own business before finishing their studies across a wide range of sectors. 

It is the responsibility of business owners to proudly support this assertion of independence and encourage these endeavours, and more crucially – weigh in on the subject of “going it alone” and offer tips on how they made it themselves.

With my company, the idea to transform my sixth-generation farm into a viable business came later on in my life and career. But the success it has brought and the opportunities it has opened up for my sons and the future of the business has made me determined to ensure the knowledge I have acquired is shared – be that through my own work with local schools and enterprise programmes or by offering training courses across various departments in the company.

Working with local schools

Our involvement in the Junior Entrepreneur Programme (JEP) in Ireland in particular has proved to be a great team-building exercise for the business, which has been a nice bonus to an already worthwhile project. 

Devised in partnership with educational institutions and entrepreneurs, JEP provides a platform through which 10 and 11 year-olds come up with business ideas which are then presented to local business “Dragons”. 

The staff enjoy working with and mentoring the pupils to develop their business ideas into practical projects, and we’ve had great feedback from the teachers. The programme has a significant personal development impact on participating pupils, building confidence, self-awareness and self-esteem, and an appreciation of individual skills and talents.

It’s important, of course, to note that entrepreneurial skills are not just the preserve of startups and micro businesses, they are also incredibly relevant to boosting employability thanks to an overall focus on soft skills including teamwork, problem-solving, lateral thinking and cultural awareness. 

By supplementing curriculum learning with entrepreneurship education, we can help provide young people with an informed choice as to their future career path, pitching “being your own boss” side by side with becoming a doctor or getting a law degree.

Offering your time and enthusiasm as a business owner is a small investment that can reap significant and mutually-beneficial rewards, providing you with a pivotal role in shaping and influence the entrepreneurs of tomorrow.

Martin Hamilton is founder and managing director of Mash Direct.

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