I had the pleasure today of speaking with a young man, who had once been my intern, and who has since gone on to far bigger and better things. I was thrilled to find out from his progress update that he now has a wonderful position at JPMorgan, where he’s clearly working hard and doing well.
He spoke proudly about his siblings and their respective progress in different fields, but I discerned a hint of regret when he spoke about his sister. When I enquired, it transpires that she’s at University but longs to promote her own business, which she’s already started – seemingly against the odds – to make a success of. The reason for the slightly downbeat explanation of her position was that people around her were trying to persuade her that going to work for yourself was something that you do only if you can’t find work elsewhere. It would apparently mark her as having failed.
In my view, in the 21st century this could not be more wrong. This time of rapid and disruptive change is the period that will be seen as having given birth to rather the post-Industrial revolution i.e. the Age of the Entrepreneur.
My generation could reasonably have on leaving education, entered a profession on the bottom rung and endured years in the same job in the hope of gradual progression up the same ladder. We could sensible say that ladder A is linked to ladder B – both attached to the same edifice so it would not be foolish to continue the climb, safe in the knowledge that the edifice was sound and one way or another we would make it to, or close to, the top.
Today, however there is no certainty that the edifice will remain. We have seen banks collapse after all. We now see that 4G mobile phone technology is eradicating the relationships that hitherto we might have had with banking middle-managers and administrators. We know that professions that were considered safe, like medicine and law will similarly be disrupted by modern technology – in the same way that the first industrial revolution mechanised so many manual jobs.
So it should be celebrated that there are young people in universities or not in education at all, coming to the conclusion that they should create their own opportunities. We should therefore be equipping them to be able to run their own enterprises.
The current British education system because it is target driven is no longer fit for purpose. It doesn’t teach the young how to use their skills to collaborate; it doesn’t show them how to get the best out of working in, or leading teams. It doesn’t tell them how to read or analyse a balance sheet, or understand different systems of financing. It considers that learning how to market yourself or sell an idea is something for later in life; and fails to recognise the confidence that comes from something as basic as the American classroom ‘show and tell’ for equipping a young person to engage confidently and articulately. It is a system that anticipates the sort of career ladder that my generation was expected to embark upon. It’s based on a structure for the compliant trundler. It’s based on a system that fixates upon exams but doesn’t teach life skills. Based on a system that still asks the young ‘who do you want to work for? ‘or ‘what do you want to be?’ rather than ‘what are you passionate about?’ or ‘what gaps do you think need to be filled?’ – So, it leads the young to focus on subjects for the purpose of getting grades, rather than considering how they could use the subjects they learn to deliver the outcomes they desire. That is a very different, more constructive outlook.
The skills I espouse are entrepreneurial skills, and should be taught in all schools as part of the school curriculum. There are already young tech entrepreneurs who are taking this teaching into schools from primary up to 6th form. Derek Browne CEO of Education in Enterprise takes this method to those coming toward the end of secondary schooling whilst Julian Hall Founder of Ultra Education has seen the efficacy his methodology even for years 5. 6 and 7.
Teachers who have experienced this system comment on what it does to promote and encourage initiative, co-operation, and a recognition of the usefulness of traditional subjects to the outcomes that the children want to achieve. Whilst parents have found that children who had previously little or no interest in traditional schooling become far more engaged; and importantly it realises and releases so much opportunity to for innovation to flourish. In this fast-paced changing age, a generation of disruptive thinkers, new innovators and entrepreneurs would be more of an advantage to any country than would an army of compliant trundlers!
Margaret Casely-Hayford is the Chair of the Advisory Board for UltraEducation, Chair of Action Aid and Non-Executive Director of NHS England. In 2014, Margaret won Black British Business Person of the Year.