By instilling a ‘can do’ attitude in youngsters who wish to bring their business ideas to fruition, Young Enterprise Scotland (YES) aims to inspire a new generation of entrepreneurs.

WHEN asked what drives him, Geoff Leask, the CEO of Young Enterprise Scotland for the past six years, is unequivocal: “Making a difference to the lives of young people”.

Over the past year that has meant supporting 311 students gain the first SCQF Level 6 enterprise qualification, launching a new financial learning platform, extending its college-based Bridge 2 Business programme, establishing new business and charitable partnerships, and enhancing its digital capabilities. Despite the pandemic, YES has lived up to its name and “walks the walk” of enterprise.

“There has never been a more important time nor a greater need to nurture and develop entrepreneurial talent within our economy,” Geoff says.

“At a time when young people will be disproportionally impacted by the effects of the global pandemic, our team stepped up and worked with a collaborative and creative mindset that has seen us adapt and thrive. We are now well-placed to help all schools and colleges achieve key learning outcomes in 2021 and beyond.”

Geoff first got involved in Young Enterprise Scotland as a volunteer in 1999 and likes to illustrate the power of enterprise learning through the stories of the young people he has met, from the 11-year-old who sells t-shirts printed with his colourful drawings to the young entrepreneurs who set up businesses as part of a YES programme in school.

“In 2013, one of the first recipients of a Bridge 2 Business £50 grant was a joinery student. His idea was to make Christmas decorations from wood off-cuts left after the college workshops.

“We didn’t hear from him for weeks, but then he appeared not only to repay the £50, but also with a £90 profit to donate to the local hospice. In that time, his fellow students had backed out of the idea, the wood was too wet and had to be dried before it could be worked, and he got his pricing wrong. But he turned it around, selling all his stock.

“Here was a guy who had never sat a desk, but in a matter of weeks had learned about HR, operations and communications. It was very impressive.”

HeraldScotland: Geoff Leask, CEO of Young Enterprise ScotlandGeoff Leask, CEO of Young Enterprise Scotland

Equipping young people with the entrepreneurial skills of resilience, adaptability, and communication, to mention just three, underpins all the YES programmes from primary school onwards. As importantly, at a time when schools are striving to balance health concerns and teaching priorities, these programmes support aspirations to create new productive learning environments that are aligned to individual education requirements and capability.

“The pace of change that young people are going to live through is one reason why enterprise education is so critical,” Geoff continues.

 “Making sure that young people are equipped and have the skills to help them through is essential. The organisations that I see that have not just survived but thrived in this current situation are those where entrepreneurial leadership is at the core. I don’t just mean the individual at the helm, but something that is interwoven, like the blood that flows through the organisation.

“Enterprise learning presents an opportunity to challenge young people in a different way – there’s no one-size fits all in education and I think teachers recognise that.

“So, as we contemplate the very structure of schooling – divided by age and tested through exams – perhaps it is time to introduce new methods and new measurement?”

Taking up the debate, YES Chairman Bill McDonald, added, “The recovery of the economy post pandemic will be driven in part by the elevation of enterprise to spark the creation of new businesses. As well as driving diversity in our economy, supporting enterprise will accelerate employment recovery as these businesses grow.”

“The role of enterprise needs wider recognition. Young people, whether they complete formal education or not, need multiple routes to success and with the right enterprising mindset, they will have many more opportunities.

“For some that might mean the next Unicorn business but for most, it is about giving them the tools to set up or be in a business that can employ others and provide for them and their family.”

Bill, an experienced non-executive director across the technology and academic sectors, sees YES as creating the “golden thread of enterprise” through the education system and beyond.

“We’re beginning to see the progression from the YES Circular Economy Challenge in primaries, to our Company Programme in secondary schools and our B2B programme in colleges.

The next step is to see that golden thread woven through entrepreneurial organisations beyond the education system, such as Elevator or Converge, so that at whatever stage a young person steps out of education, be that at 16 or later, collectively we can continue to provide support they need to develop their entrepreneurial journey.”

This week, it is likely that you’ll find Geoff Leask at the charity’s Rouken Glen Training Centre, actively supporting its Pathways programme for those with additional learning needs.

Keeping connected with young people is what Geoff sees as the differentiating factor at YES, and as the Scottish Government continues to nurture enterprise, it is using its knowledge and understanding to help establish the infrastructure that will bring enterprise learning to fruition for all young people, whatever their background.


This content was brought to you in partnership with YES as part of The Herald's Future of Education campaign