Equipping students with skills to succeed

Since 1996, Junior Achievement Ireland has worked with business leaders and schools nationwide to inspire and motivate young people to make the most of their education, writes Siobhán Maguire

24th February, 2019
Dr Helen Raftery, chief executive of Junior Achievement Ireland

When the European Commission set out to investigate the benefits of entrepreneurship education, they reached a clear-cut conclusion: it works. Research compiled from 91 studies across 23 countries left the EC in no doubt about its positive impact.

Findings included that students participating in entrepreneurship education make better higher education choices, show more self-confidence, have higher rates of employability, are more likely to start their own business and their companies tended to be innovative and more successful than those led by persons without entrepreneurship education backgrounds.

Entrepreneurship education alumni were at lower risk of being unemployed and are more often in steady employment. Also, when compared with their peers, entrepreneurship education alumni have better jobs and make more money.

For Dr Helen Raftery, chief executive of Junior Achievement Ireland (JAI), a leading non-profit, which focuses on entrepreneurship education at both primary and second level, the study reinforced the views of educators in over 550 schools who work in partnership with JAI around Ireland.

“We continuously assess the relevance of our programmes and evaluate the achievement of student learning objectives and the feedback is overwhelmingly positive,” she said. “For example, last year second-level students completing Junior Achievement (JA) programmes reported thinking differently about the world of work. Likewise, the support and feedback from our partner schools reiterated the valuable educational impact of JA programmes.

“Of the 257 teachers from more than 200 schools nationwide who completed our survey, 84 per cent believe that the JAI experience increased their students’ understanding of the value of staying in school. For the second year running, 99 per cent of teachers in our partner schools would recommend JA programmes to colleagues.”

Entrepreneurship education seeks to provide students with the knowledge, skills, and motivation to encourage entrepreneurial success in a variety of ways. Steering away from the stereotypical definition of risk-taking entrepreneurs paving a solo path of success with their own business or niche product, JA programming seeks to encourage a more holistic interpretation so that providing opportunities for students to gain entrepreneurial skills prepares today’s young people to thrive in the workplaces of the future.

Fundamental to JAI’s success is the support of organisations that include leading firms in finance, tech, pharmaceuticals and media as well as government agencies. Last year (2017-’18), those supporting organisations enabled 3,131 volunteers to share their work experience with more than 61,000 primary and second level students. Two-thirds of companies with staff involved in JA programmes said the initiative had a very positive impact on staff morale.

“Entrepreneurship education in schools covers all activities that seek to give individuals the skills, knowledge and attitudes required to achieve the goals they set for themselves to live a fulfilled life,” said Dr Raftery. “The unique piece of work we do is bringing business volunteers into the classroom to help students see a future for themselves in the world of work.

Students from Scoil Caitríona Cailíní, Coolock, Dublin 5 at the launch of Junior Achievement Ireland’s new awards scheme to showcase excellence in entrepreneurship education Marc O’Sullivan

“JA in-classroom volunteers work with students for one period each week over five weeks. They build up a rapport with the students and by sharing their own career journey, introduce students to the world of work. All the activities in which the students engage are aimed at encouraging them to think of their futures while acquiring and practicing entrepreneurial skills.”

Entrepreneurship education is given a significant role in supporting the main goals of the Europe 2020 strategy, the EU’s agenda for growth and jobs for the current decade. Last November, at the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation (DBEI) Future Jobs Summit, Minister for Education and Skills Joe McHugh agreed that key features in education should include adopting a philosophy of lifelong learning and extra-curricular activities at second-level schools to encourage learning across a greater range of interests and sectors.

Indeed, the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report, which was published last September, unveiled a new top ten emerging skills list in the workplace to include complex problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity, people management, emotional intelligence and cognitive flexibility. In JA programmes, these are skills already employed, encouraged and shared between volunteers and students.

“Part of the work we want to do is to make the value of entrepreneurship education more widely understood in Ireland,” said Dr Raftery. “The phrase that is often used in the education ecosystem is the idea of ‘co-curricular activities’, or activities that are complementary to the formal curriculum but are not necessarily in the classroom.

“A lot of the work that our partners allow us to do is to make those entrepreneurial skills and opportunities available to students, and especially to students who might otherwise not have the chance to shine. All the schools we work with are determined that every single student gets the chance to discover their talents, follow their dreams, and be ready for adulthood armed with as many life skills as possible.

“Our work with our partners in education and industry complements those aims, and helps students build their self-confidence and opens their minds to all the opportunities available to them.”

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