Guest blog post by Caroline Jenner, CEO for JA Europe
In 2011, Marta Panunzi was a 16-year-old student studying at a vocational school in Pomezia, a small town south of Rome, who found economics a turn-off. Four years later, she is studying that very subject at the University of Rome, with ambitions to start an entrepreneurial career.
The trigger for this transformation came when Marta’s economics teacher decided to enrol her class in the Global Enterprise Project (GEP) – a scheme that gives Europe’s teenagers key work readiness skills.
Working in groups and under the guidance of teachers and business volunteers, GEP students learn how to bring business ideas from concept to reality.
Marta is one of more than 20,000 secondary school students to have taken part in the GEP over the past four years. The project, run by JA Europe, the largest entrepreneurship education provider in Europe, and the European Round Table of Industrialists (ERT) is additionally backed by eight major European industries – Siemens, SAP, STMicroelectronics, Alcatel Lucent, Repsol, SmurfitKappa, SONAE and Total.
The ERT has supported this project whole-heartedly as they believe that growing the next generation of entrepreneurs is vital to driving industry innovation. ERT members say that entrepreneurship and STEM are among the skills that young people need most when entering the labour force. In addition, today’s economy is a global one and young people need to be made more aware of how international business had become. The more cross-border opportunities young people can have while they are in school, the better. Involving employees from these industries as mentors is a great way to stimulate young people’s interest in new opportunities.
GEP students learn to work with other students from different countries. In the process of creating and managing their own mini-company, they have to take initiative, accept responsibility and handle their mistakes. They collaborate within their own team and develop their networking ability. They understand how economics and finance contribute to a successful project. They apply math, science, language, writing, technological or specialized skills in a practical way.
In Marta’s case, her class was guided through the process of producing and marketing a short movie, which was sold to schoolmates, friends and relatives. She and her classmates were also invited to an international event with other GEP students from all over Europe.
“Coming to Paris for the GEP Challenge was the most enlightening experience of my entire school career” Marta says. “During the event, we were challenged to speak in a foreign language and solve a real business problem. After this amazing experience, it was clear to me that I needed to learn English and choose the right studies to get a good job and embark on the right career path.”
So far, more than 800 business volunteers have mentored GEP students. Providing invaluable insights, the volunteers help demystify the world of work, helping young people’s decision-making easier.
GEP is fine example of private sector involvement in education. Anchored around mini-companies, one of the most impactful and scalable methods available to schools. The multiple positive outcomes of entrepreneurship education are well-known. The European Commission has called for higher levels of penetration at national level and more support for teachers. If every child should have at least one practical entrepreneurial experience before leaving school, we have some ways to go. While some countries have achieved 20% penetration, most are well under 10%.
According to a recent survey by McKinsey (Education to employment: Getting Europe’s youth into work, 2014) 27% of employers in Europe were unable to fill a vacancy over the previous 12 months because they could not find anyone with the right skills. One-third said the lack of skills is causing major business problems, in the form of cost, quality and time. The age group 14-18 is a critical time for the career decision-making and improving work readiness.
A recent study from the European Commission urged national government to “foster entrepreneurial skills through new and creative ways of teaching and learning from primary school onwards, alongside a focus from secondary to higher education on the opportunity of business creation as a career destination.” Adding that, “real world experience, through problem-based learning and enterprise links, should be embedded across all disciplines and tailored to all levels of education”.
To ensure European students develop entrepreneurial and employability skills, educators and teachers have a critical role to play and must shape the learning process to include such experiences in their teaching activities.
“The GEP experience was fantastic; the students really enjoyed and learned a lot through a practical experience. The content really complements the senior cycle business studies curriculum. Every student at their age should attend such a programme to have an insight in their future,” said Ms Doyle, a teacher from Holy Family Rathcoole, Co in Dublin.
For Marta, at least, the path forward seems clear.
“I chose to study Economics thanks to my entrepreneurial experience, and I now know what I want to achieve in life.”Blogactiv Team