Schools need to encourage students who show an entrepreneurial mindset. Photo: Stockphoto

Nurturing the new entrepreneurs

OPINION: Identifying student with an entrepreneurial bent and streaming their skills would bring a multitude of benefits.

A vast range of characteristics and qualities will be offered up if you ask business leaders to describe what it means to be an entrepreneur.

They will share with you the fact entrepreneurship is not one dimensional, which reflects the fact that today’s entrepreneur comes in shades of many different colours. 

They will also highlight characteristics common among entrepreneurs such as the willingness to take calculated risks in establishing new business ventures or startups. 

Undeniably, entrepreneurship represents an important piece of fabric in a successful and growing Western Australian economy.

As innovation is transformed into business activity, new products and services are made and delivered to the market, employment is created and tax revenues are generated for the government. Everyone benefits.

When describing key attributes of entrepreneurship, those same businesspeople may digress and throw in the startling revelation that, when it comes to nurturing the business leaders of tomorrow, schools are being left for dead.

The concerns expressed may include a view that our education systems are out of date and classrooms are doing little more than transforming our next generation of would-be entrepreneurs into robotic machines who can churn out assignments to produce grades – far removed from the budding innovators we need.

In fact, some critics may go as far as to claim that our schools are killing off the entrepreneurial spirit possessed by many young people.

In response, some schools will dismiss the criticism by arguing that learning how to be an entrepreneur is the domain of university education, not the secondary sector. 

Other school leaders will address these prevailing concerns by perpetuating the myth that entrepreneurs are born and not made, suggesting schools would be wasting their time trying to develop an inborn trait.

But what if schools were to challenge that myth and make entrepreneurship the centrepiece of a contemporary education? What might that look like?

Entrepreneurial learning, in broad terms, involves building the capacity of individuals to identify commercial opportunities. The next step is to equip them with adequate doses of insight, self-esteem, knowledge and skills to progress and realise those opportunities.

Those school leaders wishing to make entrepreneurial learning the centrepiece of young people’s schooling have a range of options.

They can integrate entrepreneurial education with other learning areas, teach it as a standalone subject, or include it in school-based vocational learning programs. 

Jumping on the entrepreneurial bandwagon, like any new learning initiative, requires schools to teach skills, attitudes and personal qualities appropriate to the age and development of the student body.

Depending on students’ readiness, those skills include teaching them about opportunity seeking, investing money, securing loans, designing business strategies, and being resourceful.

Alongside all of that, schools that advocate for entrepreneurial learning need to elevate the importance of skills such as problem-solving, brainstorming, risk-taking and collaboration, in the curriculum.

The focus also needs to include teaching students to redefine mistakes by seeing failure as a launchpad for future success.  

Redefining mistakes is a critical skill described by many entrepreneurs as ‘smart failure’ and includes the importance of developing qualities such as persistence, resilience and maintenance of an optimistic mindset.

In a crowded employment market, entrepreneurial learning might extend to teaching students about small business opportunities that they can create for themselves. Schools may want to host summer or winter holiday entrepreneurs’ camps, which provide an immersive or intensive entrepreneurial experience for those young people keen to pursue a new business venture.

However, if we want to take entrepreneurial learning to the next level, consider the establishment of entrepreneurial specialist schools – for students with entrepreneurial mindsets – just like we have done for those who have talent in music, drama or sport. 

Those schools would champion, model and deliver high-quality entrepreneurial teaching and learning and have a focus on asking students the core question of ‘what do you want to create?’ rather than ‘what do you want to become’?

Just picture the entrepreneur-in-residence at those schools and the potential for such schools to forge strong alliances with the business community; and the range of new products and services flowing from these bastions of young minds full of imagination, creativity and innovation.

Schools that have started down their entrepreneurial learning path will be quick to point to benefits including increased student engagement and confidence, enhanced levels of student resilience, improved collaboration and teamwork, a renewed and more positive outlook on schooling, and even enhanced relationships with teachers.

Schools play a key role in helping young people engage with the world around them, to see and seize opportunities, and to envision what might be different. 

Teaching entrepreneurial skills represents a sure-fire way for schools to graduate the doers, makers and cutting-edge thinkers who are sought after by business communities around the globe.

Professor Gary Martin is chief executive officer at the Australian Institute of Management WA



We at Maker Kids Club wholeheartedly agree with you, Gary. That's why we teach year six students to launch their own microbusinesses, from which we see impressive benefits like improved financial capability and higher levels of confidence. We look forward to the day when it's standard practice for all kids to have a hands-on enterprise experience at school, and from there to foster the kids who think they like the idea of being an entrepreneur.

Thanks Gary. It would be interesting to assess the appetite from parents for this addition to the curriculum. For those who do want this topic added, what trade-offs are they prepared to make with other curriculum that is deleted to make room on the timetable?

The world of work is evolving and we need to be able to equip children with the right skills to thrive. Entrepreneurial skills are applicable across a number of areas of life more broadly than just work also.

Sydney, Australia
You cut right to the bone Gary. You're very spot on and say what many of us (me included) are afraid to say.

Perth WA
What a brilliant article Gary. Schools should revamp their education programs to include tapping into individual skill sets. Let's face it, not every child is aligned to the book knowledge side of it all. It would be really a breath of fresh air to see our little future leaders right from a tender age.

I believe that if people were to utilise 50 per cent of the time they spend on differentiating, they could be twice as productive as they are currently. We have the leadership and the HR department to help supervise this but why should they be the only ones to ensure diversity in the workplace? Contrary to popular belief, employees make the company, its culture, and its values, not the other way round.

Pivotal message here Gary. In order for our children to really thrive and have a great head start, our school system needs to evolve with the times. So much has changed in our world since I was at school and from what I understand not a lot has progressed in the education system. Thanks for your article.

Gooseberry Hill
Some developing countries implemented this idea into their curriculum, which also serves as a fundraiser for schools while encouraging students to be thought leaders and agents of change against the status quo.

Many schools don't fall in this category, but unfortunately the above statements remain true in most cases. Not sure if we need more entrepreneurs per se, but that mindset is definitely valuable and rare. I think it would be a good addition, as an ex-lecturer and curriculum creator.

Schools in WA can do a lot more to encourage the entrepreneurial spirit of students.

A very well-written article with a lot of thought-provoking insights.

With the workplace different from what it was 20 years ago, and it will be different in the next 20 years, it makes sense for our education system to look at ways to become adaptable to prepare students for what the world will look like when they leave school.

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