Picture a young person living in a major town or city in today’s Britain.
They will know what they want or need as a teenager, some will have them all: a smartphone which gives them access to anything on the internet within half a second, an amazing range of clothes which can be delivered the next day, trainers in a mind-boggling array of shapes, sizes, materials and prices and the ability to watch or listen to anything they want to in a click of a finger or the flick of a bank card.
School for some will be a brilliant place of comfort and a social activity, for others something they have ‘to just get through’, for others a place to be enjoyed as a stepping-stone to the rest of their lives, for some students it is a sanctuary from the outside world – a world which wants them to grow up too fast, behave like an adult or treats them like dirt.
The World promises our young people an endless dream of cars on empty roads, delicious healthy foods, happy families and lives filled with fun at work and holidays in the sun. I wonder how they’re feeling about those promises at the moment?
(The difficult / depressing bit is coming up…)
2020 has been one hell of a rollercoaster hasn’t it? March 23rdsaw the first major lockdown in the UK for decades, streets were quiet, people were kept safe, we washed our hands and then used those hands to clap for the NHS, we celebrated essential workers – the refuse collectors, the delivery drivers and the supermarket workers. We binged on TV, we did some DIY and tidied parts of the house we’ve not visited since the VHS and Tamagochi was put in the back of the cupboard. Exams were cancelled, a dodgy algorithm downgraded loads of A level students’ dreams and were then U-turned with some dreams reignited and others left smouldering and GCSEs were also badly mishandled. Headteachers and staff are struggling to understand and react to the changing situation, due in part to inconsistent guidance being sent out from Westminster close to midnight on dozens of separate occasions.
In the past four years, we have seen the promised ‘sunlit uplands’ of Brexit leading to endless antagonism in the country and infighting in the major political parties, two general elections, three prime ministers, new leaders of opposition parties and the promises made by the winning Leave campaign – many of whom are now in the cabinet – crumbling as time goes on. For balance, the Labour party has spent a lot of time backing a horse that people were led to believe was a Marxist and tearing itself apart over leadership and other issues of constitution and membership. The same can be said of the Liberal Democrats who have also had three leaders in the past four years…the last one Jo Swinson losing her seat in December 2019, making way for another leadership debate.
It’s no wonder the country is riven with division is it? False promises, rewarded with continual power concentrated in Conservative politicians, voted in on an ‘oven ready’ deal which is apparently not good enough which will deliver a likely recession and more complexity for businesses and citizens alike, as well as fewer opportunities for young people to live and work in the other 27 countries of the EU. Rhetoric from the Home Office about ‘illegal migrants’ has reached ‘invasion’ levels and different departments in Westminster seem, at times, to be trying to out-do one another in their levels of mendacity on a daily basis.
And yet, we are told to #BeKind, Stay Safe and look out for others. Use the Track and Trace App to keep our community safe and respect local lockdowns.
Imagine being at school and you or your friends are hungry because there’s not enough income at home to feed you all properly. Your headteacher – like many across cities and in rural areas in the UK – organises a breakfast club and deliveries of pallets of food come to the school like an educational food bank service. Then imagine the hope rising because a young Premier League and England footballer raising the issue of free school meals for poorer children to be fed at half terms and Christmas, it goes to a Parliamentary vote and then the Government of the day’s majority means that they vote to keep you and your friends hungry. (21stOctober 2020).
Imagine being a young person from a black, Asian, or mixed-heritage background in the UK, where if you get into university and then, even with the same or higher grades, you’re 15.6% less likely to attain a first or 2:1 degree than your white counterparts?
Imagine taking an engineering course at University because you’ve been told there are predicted to be 24,000 new vacancies per year in new engineering jobs. There have been welcome increases in the number of people undertaking engineering apprenticeships since 2013, although female and ethnic minority representation are abysmally low, at 6% and 8% respectively.Then consider that engineering jobs, like all employment are going to be negatively affected by the pandemic for years.
COVID, and its continuing impact on our lives and its even longer effects on the economy as part of a world shaken by the virus, will be a shadow over all our lives for at least a year in my opinion and the long, low Autumnal shadow will likely last 3 to 5 years. If you’re starting secondary school, in KS4 or 6thForm or a Fresher at University, the effects of COVID are going to be a constant spectre in your development. A time of hope and ambition will be tempered with stress, health anxiety and doubt.
I imagine being a young person a lot, not only because I work with young people and schools but because I can foresee the long-term impacts of this period on the UK – if it even stays ‘united’ – and the reduced opportunities ahead. Young people and their families are following complicated guidance and regulations while people in the public eye are seen to ignore it without sanctions, we see money wasted or misused in public office while City region Mayors have to fight for their local economy to be supported and the science behind pandemic responses seems to take a back seat.
I’m becoming increasingly convinced that our contract with young people is broken – the bright futures they’ve been promised are going to take a lot of extra effort, considerable down-scaling in their ambitions and even more delayed gratification as their dreams are put on hold, ‘just until COVID is sorted’ or ‘just until the economy is rebuilt’.
Neither of these are ‘just…’ these re going to take the bast part of a decade.
(Ok, moving on to a potentially uplifting solution now…)
Growing up in the 80s with Margaret Thatcher as PM, the last thing I wanted to be was a business person, an entrepreneur, an ‘owner of the forces of production’ (we’d learned about Marx in Sociology) – the problem with me was that I didn’t know what I wanted TO do. Knowing there are lots of things you know you don’t want to do isn’t the same as having goals and ambitions. As I discovered to my cost in a number of jobs which I started with enthusiasm and gradually had it wane as the drudging reality of my role in logistics or practice management really set in, along with the piles of work I didn’t want to do clogging up my desk drawers.
Young people are facing similar challenges today – a looming recession which will reduce the number of jobs available, changes to working practices with people working from home rather than in offices more and the medium-term impacts of COVID.
HOWEVER, one of the brilliant things about the modern world IS the smartphone –
they are built on the idea of community, of instant gratification and of possibility. For teenagers and pre-teens it is their most essential and desired tool – mainly as a distraction device (I mean, every possible distraction is available with the right App isn’t it?) – but it’s also a tool of creativity, or connection and of action.
I want to start changing the debate around futures for young people. I started Innovative Enterprise to support and promote enterprise and entrepreneurship as a viable and positive way to work to support the future aspirations and lifestyles of young people as they navigate the world.
Let’s start to support the idea of Business In The Palm Of Your Hand: every young person has every tool they need to create an online shop selling vintage clothes or pre-loved games and trainers, the ability to photograph and promote them, how to manage accounts and create graphics and images and how to share their skills and successes with graphic CVs or videos.
Let’s start supporting the narrative that the device they spend a lot of time on is only usually used to a fraction of its capability and that Apple and Huawei, Samsung et al are trying ever-more fanciful ways to get us to engage with our phones and each other…capabilities which we often ignore or only use if it makes our friends laugh.
Moving towards Global Entrepreneurship Week (16thto 22ndNovember) I’m going to start putting daily tips out on Twitter @EnterpriseSBox as to how we can encourage students to consider entrepreneurship as a powerful option alongside notions of a ‘traditional career’ and what they can learn about using their smartphones to create a business from now. Look out for #BusinessInYourHand for short videos or links to apps and tools that will help you and your students changing their concept of what their smartphone can do.
Finally, this year will be one which many people will not particularly want to look back on but we HAVE had to be creative about the daily routines, our vision for what life is and could be and how we see ‘normal’. I think it’s essential we extend that to adapting what we tell young people about the world they are likely to be entering. With a few exceptions, young people will have a smart phone or internet device which replaces an office full of equipment and technology – it’s incumbent on us to see that as an opportunity to change their lives, not just for watching endless TV or making dancing videos.
Let’s show them the Business In The Palm Of Their Hands, whether they know it yet or not and empower them to create their own hope, their own income and the chance to ride out the potential storms of 2021 and beyond.
I started Innovative Enterprise because I knew it was the only way I could do the work I passionately wanted to do with young people and schools was to have my own business. After all, how could I preach entrepreneurship and enterprise if I still had a job with someone else? Kids see through hypocrisy really quickly.
As with all businesses it has changed and evolved over the past 15 years: sometimes we’ve sold more Enterprise Soapbox kits; sometimes we’ve worked with manufacturers more often; sometimes summer schools and enterprise workshops have been in demand and sometimes we’ve done design and development for others. Now we’re doing online delivery and virtual keynotes.
Thanks to all our clients and their students over the years – you’ve supported us through thick and thin and hopefully will do so into the future too. Thank You.
My book, The Ladder is out in February 2021 and includes everything I’ve learned about enterprise and careers for young people.
NB: The image for this post is from the incredible Matt Blease – see his best work on Instagram.