Entrepreneurship: delivering the soft skills that drive hard productivity gains

Michael Mercieca, CEO Young Enterprise UK

Both in the UK and across Europe, employment levels have slowly been climbing since the peak of the economic crash. The UK’s Office for National Statistics, which measures employment and unemployment rates, has the latter at 5.4% for adults aged 16-64 from June to August 2015, which compares favorably to the 2011 peak of 8.4%. Youth unemployment, despite being nearly triple the headline rate at 15.9%, has also fallen from its 2011 peak of 22.5%.

Despite this, a report in the summer unveiled by Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne found that the UK has a poor rate of productivity, described by Osborne as the “challenge of our time”.

Productivity growth in the UK is at its slowest level since the 1990s, and it is slowing down worldwide. A report by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in April 2015 found that western economies’ growth rates have declined since the global financial crisis, and a result of this is lower productivity growth as well as lower capital.

The reasons behind this are complex, involving infrastructure, regulation and housing issues (particularly in the UK). But there is one contributing factor which sits above all of these; skills. It has been known for a while now that employers in the UK struggle to find young recruits with the right ‘soft’ employment skills to start in the world of work. Our research in 2013 found that 70% of UK employers find it difficult to hire good quality applicants for entry level jobs. This trend is echoed across Europe, with 75% of German and 56% of Spanish employers reporting the same issues.

Skills such as communication, teamwork, confidence and resilience or character cannot  be taught in academic lessons, but, if developed from a young age, will complement academic learning throughout education. Finishing education with these skills means that young people enter the world of work efficient, productive and economical.

A highly-skilled workforce is a productive workforce, and to produce this, we need to start in education. Enterprise (and financial) education unlocks the potential of students by improving their creativity, productivity and business acumen. It teaches them how to be entrepreneurial and productive employees or indeed entrepreneurs themselves.

Unlocking this untapped potential in our young people will help to ensure our countries have a sustainable annual output of better skilled, ambitious, motivated workers coming out of schools, colleges and universities. The ONS found that for April to June 2015, there were 922,000 young people in the UK who were Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET), and many millions more across Europe. If, instead of failing them from a young age, we gave them the skills and confidence to get a job, it could add billions of pounds to Britain’s and Europe’s GDP.

At Young Enterprise we know that enterprise education delivers real, measurable results, and we in the UK do it every year with 250,000 students. As part of JA Europe, we reach over three million students in over 70,000 schools in 39 countries. Our research shows that young people who take part in our programmes are nearly twice as likely to start a business. Even if they do not become entrepreneurs, through enterprise education they gain the practical skills that employers need to grow and expand their company, and in turn, the economy.

Category : entrepreneurship education, skills for employability Posted : 4 November 2015 12:37 UTC
About the Author
Michael Mercieca, CEO Young Enterprise UK


It is all too easy for so-called experts to bemoan so-called soft skills. They often demand empirical proof of the value-add that an educational experience can bring. So, it is great that Young Enterprise can demonstrate the hard benefits soft skills bring. It is a good example of ‘character education’, as some UK policymakers refer to the process. Productivity is key to any economy and especially Europe’s emerging digital economy. The students who have participated in an entrepreneur experience programme can use their new soft skills to increase their own and others productivity. If they found their own start-ups they’ll be better employers. Remember digital companies grow seven times faster than regular ones. If they students become employees they’ll have plenty of opportunity to apply their new soft skills.
Nick Jones, Head of Digital Comms & Corporate Responsibility, Visa Europe
Nick Jones, Head of Digital Comms & Corporate Responsibility, Visa Europe 2015-11-05 08:35 Reply
Good point about the 'shifting sands' of growth, especially in the digital domain. Michael and I were discussing this yesterday. I think 'academic lessons' mean taught content delivery in Michael's discussion, so perhaps I should point out that experiential learning projects can demonstrate skills and behaviour development, especially if they become the vehicle for evaluation and assessment as this can otherwise be a barrier. When being 'taught to the test' testing what matters makes sense (Constructive alignment - Biggs, 2003).
andy penaluna
andy penaluna 2015-11-05 08:55 Reply
You are absolutely right, Michael. Beyond intellectual competency, employers are looking for talent who are collaborative, creative, courageous and who are passionate about what they believe in. Entrepreneurship experience is a key quality that will play well, regardless of whether a young person charts her/his career in small or big business. Junior Achievement - Young Enterprise should be a mandatory part of every school's extended offering!
Mei Li Powell
Mei Li Powell 2015-11-06 11:30 Reply
Michael, this completely right. We need to put pressure on government to include practical business activities in the national curriculum. Whenever I have been involved with young people in entrepreneurial activity, I have been impressed by their fearlessness (don't care if it has been tried before, don't know about NIH) But they do need coaching in the basic skills of business leadership, how to collaborate effectively, how to channel creativity - these skills, as much as more academic ones, can be learned. It's just that they are not taught in a consistent, nationwide way in the UK
James Arnold-Baker
James Arnold-Baker 2015-11-10 14:02 Reply

Post a comment

Security code Refresh

Related Articles

We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Find out more here.

I accept cookies from this site: