Britain’s next generation needs to be powered by entrepreneurial energy

IF WE had a thriving entrepreneurial economy,” says Peter Jones, the BBC Dragon, “the speed we’d come out of the downturn would be transformational, but our culture does not encourage it. We need to get serious about inspiring young people to set up businesses.”

He isn’t wrong about our culture. Britain is lagging behind. We have just 5.8 per cent of our population engaged in the process of starting a business, compared to 8 per cent in the US, and 19 per cent in China. And the latest YouGovStone research shows that young people’s attitudes towards entrepreneurship don’t offer us much hope.

Only one in five school children surveyed said they thought they were encouraged to be enterprising and 52 per cent of secondary school students said they were primarily attracted to careers in the professions such as law, health and education. This is bad news when 20 per cent of new graduates at the moment can’t find work.

Jones thinks enterprise education is the answer, but warns that the standard of most business education available at the moment is low.

This is why his charity Enterprise UK has launched the Tenner Tycoon campaign. The campaign gives small groups of school kids £10 and a month to turn it into a profit. “I want to give kids the practical experience of running a business. It’s how I started,” Jones explains. He used to help out at his local tennis academy from the age of 12, so by the time he was 16 he was able to open his own.

Jones says this is desperately needed, not least because a bold one in five young people said that they would rather invest in starting a business than going to university. “We need to harness that energy,” Jones says, “if those kids all started businesses think about how many jobs it could create.”

I don't think people realise that becoming an entrepreneur is a legitimate career choice. ‘Entrepreneur’ seems more like an adjective than a job title.

We need to face up to the fact that our current educational model is broken. We used to encourage young people to pursue further education because it was, on average, the best means of getting a good job upon graduation. But this social compact no longer holds true, hence the current record levels of youth and graduate unemployment. Moreover, the Browne Review of Higher Education found that up to 50 per cent of young people taking out loans in the new fees-based system may never be in a position to start paying them back. I would argue we should be listening to the one in five young people in our survey who said they would rather use the money to invest in setting up a new business than going straight on to university.

I got no encouragement at school – my school was a high performing school in Birmingham and there was a careers service, but it was bent on you getting into a career like being a doctor or a lawyer, there was no embracing of the entrepreneurial

Nowadays, in school you are funnelled into standard corporate life, and the idea of running your own business is saved for the day-dreamers or those people who don't have a clue what they are doing.