Published on LabourUncut here.
How enterprise can empower young people to tackle youth unemployment
by Lee Marsham
Youth unemployment is a national crisis that has been worsening steadily in the last few years and has increased to unprecedented levels in recent times.
With financial tightening well underway and no sign of it loosening any time soon, it is hard to see an obvious solution to the problem from within our current leaders in many of our sectors of work. Why?
Today we are faced with a generation of leaders who only know how to put programmes in place with government support and incentives, both of which are on shortening supply.
As of yet no one has adapted to the new austere times.
It seems that only young people themselves can solve youth unemployment. But in order to enable young people to achieve this, we need to capitalise on the business capacity that they can provide.
This can only be achieved through a radical reshaping of the current curriculum so it entrenches entrepreneurship into young people.
Through some of my volunteering experiences I have often delivered enterprise sessions in primary and secondary schools. In most cases, these sessions are arranged as a once-a-year enterprise day or week, and only the name and format varies from school to school.
It is nothing more than a curiosity – a change to the usual school day.
Through delivering these sessions I’ve witnessed first-hand how engaged many of the students become, where students can express their own ideas and creativity for possibly the first time. Often the underperforming students rise to the top, displaying levels of competence not normally seen during the normal school year.
And then that’s it.
That day or week is over and nothing is ever followed up. That short-term confidence boost that some students receive or the wetting of their appetite for future enterprises fades as quickly as it came.
There are already good examples of programmes that are engaged with this sort of work (the Young Enterprise Company Programme is one of them), but too often they are only in the good schools that need them least, as only those schools can pay for the service provision.
By making it part of the curriculum these programmes can be expanded and become common in all schools. This will create generations of future young people who so often have the ideas and drive but lack the skills and confidence to apply them. By giving them real-life school enterprise experience this will change.
In addition, much could be gained by levelling post-school playing field combining the application for all options available to school-leavers under one system, similar to that of UCAS.
This could combine apprenticeships with the traditional “academic” options and would work well under a system where all students have to stay engaged with education up until the age of 18.
This would provide a strong message that the diverse career or education options available to students are equal, and provide them with a greater knowledge of all that is available to them.
However, there is an opportunity to offer more than just those two options on the table. A third option could be made available – to give students now confident in enterprise an opportunity to take out a loan of up to £9,000 to kick start their own business.
The loan would work in entirely the same way as the tuition fees and only be paid back once the entrepreneur starts earning at a certain level.
This would provide a low-risk way of getting capital to start-up entrepreneurs at a time when banks are so reluctant to lend, it would utilise an existing framework, and it would send a powerful and positive message to students that there are many paths to, and definitions of, success.
Lee Marsham was the winner of the recent Pragmatic Radicalism Top of the Policies event on tackling youth unemployment