Nurturing an entreprenurial mindset from an early age is at the heart of Young Enterprise Scotland CEO Geoff Leask’s mission to motivate pupils from all backgrounds to succeed. By Dominic Ryan

With Covid-19 having made such an impact on Scotland’s society and businesses, the future of education is now in even sharper focus. This makes the work of Young Enterprise Scotland (YES) invaluable as they continue to assist more than 15,000 young people every year. 

Supported by more than 600 volunteers from the business community, they ensure young people from all backgrounds have the opportunity to thrive.
For CEO Geoff Leask this work is about inspiring an entrepreneurial mindset – developing enterprise skills in young people and the earlier the better.

“There’s always that question of whether an entrepreneur is born or bred,” he says, “The answer is you can become an entrepreneur. You can learn the necessary skills all through your educational life.

“The more we do that the better it will be for ‘Scotland PLC’. That’s very much our belief and it’s integral to our strategic plan, Enterprise For All.” 
“Background doesn’t really matter. That’s a critical part about enterprise education, as it can inspire everyone from those not suited to traditional learning through to the academic stars.”

Leask adds this means a strong emphasis on equity of access and opportunity for young people no matter where they are and points out there’s a positive from the Covid-19 situation in an acceleration towards blended learning.

“Building in digital capabilities, alongside face to face mentoring and support, has always been an important element in our strategy, making what we do more widely available. Covid-19 has enabled us to accelerate that through really good initiatives that we’ve been able to develop. 

“For instance, we get very strong support from the Scottish Government for the Enterprising Schools initiative, which is very much about upskilling the educator. Empowering the teachers, so they have a better understanding of enterprise learning, helps to embed the activities and map them into the curriculum. The initiative acts as a bedrock and enables organisations like ours and others who operate in that space to offer resources, energy, passion and practical experience.” 

Leask adds what is critically important to enterprise education – whether primary, secondary or tertiary – is providing a wide base of role models. “It doesn’t have to be somebody who’s a billionaire,” he says. “School children and young people need to understand what the world of enterprise is like and what it’s like to be involved.

“Our goal is not to have everybody set up a business when they leave school. It is to give everybody the skills, knowledge and understanding that will make them a key member of a team – whether in the private, public or third sector. We give them that entrepreneurial mindset so when they go into work they’re a far better person to have on the team. It’s all about skills development.”

He admits it’s not always possible to have the teacher in some of the core activities and there’s a lot of work to be done so schools recognise this. There are, however, huge positives.

“Although we’re a fairly small nation, we’re well connected and we’re highly respected for the huge amount of work we’ve done in the enterprise arena. There’s a plethora of support mechanisms for organisations in the private, public and, in particular, the third sector. So Scotland is a positive place to work in that respect.

“Where the challenges still exist are in ensuring enterprise is giving parity of esteem alongside academic work in schools. That’s where our flagship Company Programme comes in. Students form teams to run a real company with real products and services for the year then wind it up.

“Last year, for the first time, completing the Company Programme achieved a level six SCQF qualification – the equivalent of a Higher. Our mantra is ‘learning by doing’ and that gives parity of esteem alongside say a qualification in history.”
Covid-19 has impacted the way we live and work, so does Leask believe the notion of enterprise is even more relevant to shaping Scotland’s future? 

“The short answer is yes. The longer answer is for businesses and organisations there will be winners and losers. If you look more closely at some of those doing well, they’re the organisations led by and filled with people who have enterprise skills in abundance and an entrepreneurial mindset. This has enabled them to look at the challenges but, more importantly, look at the opportunities.

“If there’s one thing this Future of Education campaign can look at, from our perspective, it’s about how we enable that enterprise approach, with enterprise skills woven throughout the school curriculum. 

“I was in a meeting where I heard this wonderful phrase from someone who’d been observing our work: ‘Young Enterprise Scotland provides the context for young people to calibrate their minds in regards to the world of work through a practical learning-by-doing style that engages learners from all backgrounds and all academic levels.’

“All in, education has a responsibility to make sure we nurture and harness the creativity of young people and let them flourish without trying to take away those jaggy edges of creativity. Young people are born creative but sometimes the system – whether that’s education, parental influence or the media – tries to shape them so they are conformist. 

“There’s nothing wrong with learning in traditional ways but you need spiky, jaggy edges of creativity, where people have the courage and the ability to stick their heads above the parapet with ideas.

“It’s through ideas that new enterprises are born and through enterprise you create wealth for the community and for the country. That’s what we’re going to need as we go forward. Young people are the innovators. They are the change makers. They give me hope for the future.”


This article appears as part of The Herald's The Future Of Education campiagn, in association with Young Enterprise Scotland (YES)


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