Why we need to invest in nurturing young entrepreneurs

29th June 2020 - Rosi Lister

Rosi Lister reflects on the need to nurture the skills of young people as we adjust to the new economic outlook

Three months ago I wrote about the possible impacts of the Corona pandemic on the business community and the need for us all to embrace our innate creativity in order to navigate the unknown and build a new future. As the full extent of the related economic disaster unfolds we are left with very big questions to grapple with, including what to do about the predicted unemployment figures for young people which rose by 109% during lockdown and will potentially hit more than one million when college and University students graduate.

According to a recent Nuffield Foundation report[i], an additional 600,000 young people aged 18 – 24 who are leaving education as the Corona “Class of 2020” will soon be claiming unemployment benefits unless drastic action is taken. The report suggests that as much as a third of young people with lower qualification levels (GCSE or equivalent) who are often already experiencing disadvantage of one type or another, will find themselves unemployed. The figures make terrifying reading. The Nuffield Foundation suggests two mitigation strategies: The first is to keep young people in education longer, suggesting a further six months, the second is a Job Guarantee scheme similar to the one implemented after the financial crash of 2008. It could be argued that to retain young people in the education system ‘as is’ may just defer the inevitable in a similar way to trying to prevent redundancies through the Job Retention Scheme which has, in my opinion, created a sense of compassionate but false, job security. Young people leaving a standard education setting after having undertaken another six months of standard education might find themselves in exactly the same rudderless boat, but six months older. The Job Guarantee (JG) scheme on the other hand is commendable in its ethos and its apparent success in keeping young people gainfully occupied for the public good until such time as job opportunities in the private sector recover. However it is becoming clear that the post pandemic collapse will see whole sectors of the economy severely reduced in size if not entirely wiped out. So there is no guarantee that the economy will recover in the same way as it has in the past after other financial disasters.

It seems to me that part of the post pandemic recovery answer lies in how we can find ways to drive investment into creating and supporting a generation of new entrepreneurs. Call them the “Class of 2020” by all means, but let it be a badge of honour rather than a term that comes to define lost talent and opportunity. I very much support the idea of extending and expanding the educational provision for young people, but let’s make that expansion exciting and relevant to the now. We need to equip young people with the creative skills and resilient personal qualities they need to design and build the new businesses and indeed even the new ways of working that the pandemic has taught us is possible. I would like to see the Durham Commission’s 10th recommendation[ii] that calls for creativity to be embedded in all post 16 vocational curriculum to be placed at the center of a new tertiary programme that has entrepreneurship as its central plank. I would like to see innovative collaborations between training providers, local authorities and organisations supporting the health and well-being of young people come together to deliver this targeted programme, which would focus young people on real-time projects that respond to real-world challenges; supported by world-class industrial and technological expertise with funding made available for the new products and services that emerge. In terms of a local authority funded Job Guarantee scheme model that pays a young person to do work for the public good whilst waiting for something better to come along, what could be better than paying young people to create their own job opportunities that support the economic recovery we need and in a sustainable way?

Young people are the future, let’s allow them to be a part of building the solutions they need rather than condemning them to lives of low aspiration and low achievement.

A new way of learning is required that does not reward ‘right answers’ but instead recognises the merits of mental agility and knights-move[iii] thinking. By investing in the development of a new pedagogy that shifts the powerbase from teacher to learner who is empowered to drive their own discovery, we can, I think, begin to close the attainment gap between rich and poor and change the life chances of a generation.  The concept of taking learning out of the classroom and into real life is nothing new and I am reminded of my teacher training days and Ivan Illich’s seminal text ‘De-schooling Society’ written in 1971. But can everyone be an entrepreneur? My partner, himself a successful entrepreneur, thinks you have to be born one. On the contrary; I see it as a continuum with innovation and invention at one end and entrepreneurship at the other. This allows for individuals to have a lesser or greater appetite for risk, which is what creating your own venture is all about. Some people find the risk thrilling, some find it terrifying. In an action learning context this continuum would be taken into consideration as a key strength; encouraging the formulation of creative teams or business partnerships. The benefit of forging such collaborations is the ability to combine creative innovation with pioneering bravery.

I imagine a programme not too dissimilar to what we already do at IVE, training for creativity through both our Applied Creativity Labs in schools (now online) tackling issues like air pollution and food waste and our B2B Creative Leadership training which helps businesses prepare for change by adapting and staying resilient. Key components of our training include convergent and divergent thinking skills, critical analysis and observation, using metaphor to help see things differently and open questioning techniques taken from George Prince’s Synectics. What would be new about this programme would be that the participants ‘end point assessment’ would be the launch of a new enterprise and a job.

If you think so too, we’d like to hear from you. We are currently looking for partners to work with to develop this thinking further and then pilot it. Please contact me directly at Rosi@weareive.org for a chat about what we can do together.

Rosi Lister, Chief Executive, IVE

[i] https://mk0nuffieldfounpg9ee.kinstacdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Class-of-2020-Resolution-Foundation.pdf

[ii] https://www.dur.ac.uk/creativitycommission/report/recommendations/

[iii] The move of the knight in chess is used as a metaphor for the unexpected, and illogical, connections between ideas.

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