Let’s give children the best possible start-up in life

Ireland is good in entrepreneurship, but it needs to take some pains to succeed.

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Ireland has to remember Thomas Edison who said that becoming a genius takes only 1% of inspiration – other 99% are perspiration. He has invented many things, including the light bulb, and it took him hundreds of attempts and failures before the success. Same with entrepreneurship – we don’t have to do it like a regular job, we need to practice, try, and put efforts in the work.

The people of Ireland have everything to give such an approach a try: ambitions, optimism, ability to work hard and get out of difficult situations. The country is famous in the world by its talent in business and innovation. Back in 2013, Ireland ranked 9th out of 28 countries of the EU the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor checked. It’s also the 2nd in the EU15, being very good at early-stage entrepreneurship activity. Besides, about half adult population of the country find entrepreneurship one of the best future choices for a career.

Ireland will use its potential to support and develop entrepreneurship in the future, but it needs the right conditions to do so. To that end, the government prioritises entrepreneurship and is working to create the right conditions to support start-up businesses and ensure their survival. It is vital, however, that we equip the next generation with the right skills, which is why I want secondary school students to have the chance to develop entrepreneurship by adding dedicated training and workshops to the curriculum.

When students return to school in September, the European parliament will launch a call for a greater emphasis on promoting youth and entrepreneurship through education and training in a positive move which aims to ensure our children graduate with practical business skills. Next month, MEPs will vote on a report, Promoting Youth Entrepreneurship through Education and Training, calling for education systems to include aspects of entrepreneurship into the curricula at all levels across the EU. The European commission is being asked to support and co-ordinate this process via the Erasmus+ programme.

There are practical measures which could be implemented quickly to support schools in rolling out an entrepreneurial training programme at secondary level. Particular attention should be given to the training of teachers, as they have the ability to inspire and encourage young people to consider a business career. An informal learning programme with a practical dimension, that is on a project basis, in co-operation with the private sector and entrepreneurs, could be developed. Community-based entrepreneurs could engage with schools to become mentors to the students, sharing real-life experiences. In this way, budding entrepreneurs can be encouraged to develop their ideas via workshops and mentorship.

Such a module could be implemented for transition-year students at secondary level initially, with a view to a more far-reaching programme later. It could also be linked to national young entrepreneur awards. Entrepreneurship has the potential to become an exam subject for those pursuing business studies, with a practical element such as proposing a viable business idea, business plan development or pitching to potential investors.

A school-based programme would have the added advantage that it would target the more underrepresented entrepreneurs in terms of youth and women. There are now about 15,000 women starting businesses in Ireland every year, and the latest statistics suggest 10% of women in Ireland aspire to start a company in the future. These are not simply aspirations: the number of female entrepreneurs increased by 50% in the 12 months up to 2013.

And why stop at secondary school? The basic skills applicable to business and entrepreneurship are valuable for life. Primary school children would benefit from a module explaining the value of money and why and how you need to budget while introducing children to brain-storming ideas for inventions, using their vivid imaginations.

Many people say that entrepreneurship is an innate skill; you have it or you don’t. I would argue that most Irish people have business ability and — if given the right skills, knowledge and support — could pursue their dreams of starting their own business. Let’s empower Ireland’s next generation of entrepreneurs with the right education.

Seán Kelly is an MEP for Ireland South and the leader of the Fine Gael delegation in the European parliament. He is a member of the parliament’s industry, research and energy committee and the international trade committee

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