‘Entrepreneurship is something we should be teaching at an early age’

‘Entrepreneurship is something we should be teaching at an early age’

byline: Marjo John

Even as they await the coming of spring, the students at Middle River Consolidated School on Cape Breton Island, N.S., are already looking forward to autumn. That’s when they plan to set up a market on school grounds and sell the produce from their vegetable garden.

“We’ve sold our produce before, at the market in town and to a local restaurant that bought three-quarters of our harvest last year,” says Donna Anton-Mulley, a teacher at Middle River, which has 24 students aged five to 12 years who are in mixed-grade classes. “This year our plan is have a market at our school in October after we harvest and have the public come to us.”

While Ms. Anton-Mulley oversees the school’s garden program, she says it was the students who hatched the plan for this year’s market. They’ll be running the show, doing everything from making flyers to counting the cash at the end of the sale. To help, the school has been giving them lessons on such topics as how to start and run a business, manage money, and work as a team.

“We’ve brought in guest speakers who talked to the kids about what’s involved in running a business,” says Ms. Anton-Mulley. “And we let the kids just run the market business by themselves – they work together, they decide who’s doing which job, and they decide what to do with the money.”

It’s a long way from the lemonade stand that has given many generations their first taste of entrepreneurship. But for today’s young Canadians, the fundamental lesson is the same whether they’re selling citrus beverages in front of their house or kale at a farmer’s market: entrepreneurship is essential.

“It’s important to everybody, even for people who aren’t interested in running their own business,” says David Valliere, chair of the entrepreneurship and strategy department at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management in Toronto. “Given how the economy has changed and the uncertainty of the job market, entrepreneurship is something we should be teaching at an early age.”

Many schools today clearly ascribe to this wisdom. Some are teaching entrepreneurship as part of their province’s course curriculum. In Ontario, for instance, high school students can choose to learn about entrepreneurship as part of “specialist high skills major” business studies courses. One school, Allan A. Martin Senior Public School in Mississauga, Ont., even offers an international business and technology stream that includes entrepreneurial studies.

In Alberta, senior high school students can learn about entrepreneurship through an online gaming software, called Entrepreneurship-Lemonade, that lets students run a virtual lemonade stand business.

Others schools are teaching business savvy through extracurricular clubs or partnerships with youth organizations such as Junior Achievement, Futurpreneur Canada and The Learning Partnership.

These organizations expose kids to entrepreneurship through curriculum-linked programs such as Junior Achievement’s A Business of Our Own, where elementary students act as presidents and CEOs of their own retail business; or The Learning Partnership’s Entrepreneurial Adventure, which connects students with a business mentor who helps them start and run their own enterprise, with profits from sales going to a charity chosen by the students.

However schools are teaching it, entrepreneurship is a subject that is increasingly seen as a must for Canada’s youth, even those just starting to learn their ABCs.

“Entrepreneurship is a huge engine for the country and it’s going to be more and more important in the coming years,” says Akela Peoples, president and CEO at The Learning Partnership, based in Toronto. “Gone are the days when people can expect to be with one company for 30 to 40 years, so young people today really need to be entrepreneurial in their lives.”

The importance of entrepreneurship among young people is underscored in a report released last year by the London-based Global Entrepreneurship Research Association, which monitors entrepreneurship trends around the world.

Looking at the state of youth entrepreneurship, the report notes that “the capacity of the world economy to create jobs has been steadily declining since the early 1990s” and that young people today are almost three times more likely than adults to be unemployed. Enterprising youth create jobs for themselves and for their peers, says the report, and the businesses they create make significant contributions to innovation.

But despite the clear business case for encouraging entrepreneurial thinking amongst young people, most countries do a poor job of promoting entrepreneurship in primary and secondary education, according to the report.

Julie Deans, CEO of Canadian Youth Business Foundation, a national non-profit that provides support services and startup financing to business owners aged 18 to 39, says Canada needs to do more to nudge its young citizens towards entrepreneurship.

Schools need to build entrepreneurship programs and skills into their curricula, with subjects that might include financial literacy and networking, says Ms. Dean.

“Give your students opportunities to experience entrepreneurship – maybe host a business fair in addition to your science fair,” she says. “It’s also important to expose kids to role models who can give them a realistic view of entrepreneurship, so bring entrepreneurs into the school to talk about their experience.”

The onus of promoting entrepreneurship to young students does not – and should not – rest solely with the country’s schools and with youth organizations, says Ms. Dean; governments also have an important role to play. She cites programs such as Ontario’s Summer Company, which gives eligible students who want to start a summer business funding of up to $3,000, plus access to advice and mentorship from local entrepreneurs.

There’s never been a better time – or a more urgent need – for young people to learn the lessons of entrepreneurship and to build a foundation for a future where they might be captain of their own enterprise, says Ms. Dean. She points to recent surveys that show a growing interest among young people to start their own business. One conducted last year by the Bank of Montreal found almost half of post-secondary students saw themselves starting a business after graduation.

Another survey, by Intuit Canada, found that Millennials were twice as likely as Canadians in general to want to start a business in the next 12 months.

At Middle River school, Ms. Anton-Mulley has already seen how an education in entrepreneurship can inspire young minds. One recent Middle River graduate has been running his own summer business for the last few years.

“He took the entrepreneurship plan we had developed here and implemented it in his own business mowing lawns in the summer,” says Ms. Anton-Mulley. “Now he’s making $2,000 to $3,000 in the summer, and he’s only in junior high.”

The Globe and Mail | Toronto, Ontario