Parents consider enterprise education starting from primary school vital for preparing children for the workplace reveals recent research by Young Enterprise NI, Parenting NI and Ni4kids.

In a rapidly evolving world, parents are asking: How best to prepare our children for the future? This is the challenge facing educators and the economy… and Enterprise Education could deliver the answer.

In a survey* recently conducted by Young Enterprise Northern Ireland in partnership with Ni4kids and Parenting NI, parents made a powerful case for starting enterprise education as early as possible in Northern Ireland’s schools. As a concerned parent stated:“The world of work is changing so fast; the jobs our primary school children will be doing are unlikely to exist today. And with so little job security, they must be ready to create their own opportunities rather than relying on others.”

A Curriculum Essential

Across NI, parents overwhelmingly support –over 97 per cent of survey respondents – embedding enterprise learning in the curriculum to build the entrepreneurial and career skills needed for a healthy economy. And nine out of 10 (92%) believe preparation for the world of work should begin at primary school.

 “These survey results underpin the importance of our role to support young people and the NI economy to ensure they develop skills that will have real world relevance. The research indicates that even more is required, all young people deserve to get this opportunity. Young Enterprise works with the Department of Education, schools, educators, business leaders and parents to engage young people in enterprise education and there is a clear need for NI society to embrace the innovative approach of embedding enterprise education within everyday classroom learning,” saysYoung Enterprise Chief Executive Carol Fitzsimons MBE.

Young Enterprise Chief Executive Carol Fitzsimons MBE and Managing Director of Ni4kids Gary Hamilton launch the Business Beginnings Programme for Primary Schools

More than two thirds of parents surveyed had primary school aged children. Nearly 40 per cent had children in secondary level. Parents of pre-schoolers and school leavers also took part, showing it is a topic that is important to parents of children of all ages. Questions covered topics around enterprise education and preparation for the workplace and sought views on the barriers and opportunities for our young people.

“Schools need to do more to help kids find what they are good at and understand a person does not need a conventional job to be a success.”
Quote from a parent

“Getting children to want a career in something other than gaming and YouTube. More children need to see other job options out there.”
Quote from a parent

How Are Schools Doing At Preparing Children For Future Careers?

Just over one third (34%) of parents feel their child is being well prepared for the world of work by school, however slightly more (37%) disagree, and 29 per cent are unsure, highlighting the scope for improvement. This highlights the differing levels of importance given to enterprise education by schools, and the priority placed on skills development by parents in comparison to exam outcomes.

When asked to cite the main barriers for young people, parents produced an extensive list of challenges and attitudes hindering children and educators including: No work experience impedes access to employment; the overemphasis on academic performance rather than developing the whole child; lack of apprenticeships, placements and support from local businesses and that studies do not reflect ‘real world’ tasks or encourage independent thinking and initiative.

Managing the transition from school is also a hurdle.“A key principle of enterprise education” notes Carol,“is the importance of learning by doing. We simulate the real world of business and as well as developing essential transferable skills, they experience the highs and lows, learning about the reality of setbacks, adapting plans and building resilience to be able to learn from failure and move forward.”

A Multiplicity Of Benefits

When parents were asked about the benefits of enterprise education, responses covered the gamut of life and work skills. Parents identified skills that are essential in the world of work including critical thinking, social skills, personal development and business and financial skills.

The benefits mentioned also included having more realistic expectations about the future. Over 95 per cent of respondents agreed that participating in Young Enterprise programmes and running mini student enterprises with others is important when developing skills for work and career choices. Children gain a sense of their strengths and interests, and of the world of business, as they plan budgets, product ideas, social media marketing, planning and roll-out.As one parent observed,“Not every child has their own entrepreneurial parent to role model for them.  Participation in the Young Enterprise Northern Ireland programmes allows children to see enterprise as a potential and realistic career option and one which they might not have considered.” 

It’s Not All About Academic Achievement

The message from parents was clear: In our results-focussed educational system, every young person, regardless of academic ability, needs opportunities to be engaged, gain employability skills and fulfil their potential. For children whose talents lie outside academia, enterprise education offers another area to excel in, while providing an awareness of entrepreneurship and an appetite for business start-up. Many thriving entrepreneurs were not high-achievers at school.

“Just because a child is not achieving top marks doesn’t mean they can’t be successful.  We need to give every student the chance to explore and discover the skills they have, and consider a wide variety of roles that could be the route for them. For disengaged pupils, giving an interactive learning experience to positively participate in can be vital, as schools and society look to move beyond academic results as the only measure of success,”says Carol. She continues,“The world of work will have dramatically changed by the time our children finish education.  They need to be prepared to adapt and thrive in any future world. This is where flexibility and creativity are vital.”

Parents Want To Be Involved

Over 90 per cent of respondents want to actively support their child, though it can be hard for parents to know the best way to do this. Parents of children who had been involved in Young Enterprise noted in the survey that discussing their mini-business enabled a more constructive, even fun, career conversation about interests and options based on their experience of the work based project. Active involvement gives, “insight into what direction my child would like to go in”.

“Enterprise education should be critical rather than being seen as enrichment or a nice activity that only a small amount of students get to do.”
Quote from a parent

“I want my child to learn in an environment that builds confidence, relationships with others, encourages teamwork, but also leadership.”
Quote from a parent

Enterprise Education is International Best Practice      

So how can parents, schools and young people keep up with emerging trends and the required skills? What does job security look like today, or tomorrow, in an economy where the knowledge based creative, digital and technology industries are mushrooming? AI is replacing jobs and creating new ones, and self-employment, remote working and portfolio careers are the new norm. Here too, parents’ insights in the survey mirror international best practice in education. Successful examples offer proof that the best way to help young people navigate a constantly changing landscape is to equip them with transferable, core skills so they can move from one career and industry to another.

The Finnish education system, widely regarded as one of the best in the world, provides a model for successful integration of enterprise education into mainstream curriculum delivery. The skills developed are valued as much as the academic output, enabling every pupil to feel successful. Finland’s core curriculum places an emphasis on ‘transversal competencies’ – helping every student’s personal growth by building active competencies required for the rest of their lives, such as entrepreneurship, participation, life and workplace skills and creating a sustainable future.

Re-imagining Their Future                                                                                              

Parents want the best possible future for their children. One in which their child is confident, engaged and thriving in a dynamic economy where every school leaver has the chance to contribute, adapt and excel. In their view, enterprise education is a powerful tool to achieve this ambition and should be available to every child in Northern Ireland.

“Children have an extraordinary capacity for innovation and we need to do all we can to unlock their talents. That is our mission in partnership with the Department of Education and schools across NI. Through this survey parents have made their voices heard – let’s have more access to, and information about, enterprise education… And let’s not wait until our children are in secondary school to get started”says Carol, adding,“imagine how much young people could achieve if all schools across NI embedded enterprise education into their curriculum delivery?”. 

For more information in how to get your child’s school involved, or for information on how you can help mentor our young people, visit or

*Research was conducted by YENI, Parenting NI and Ni4kids in April 2019 with 60+ parents of children aged 18 years or younger living in Northern Ireland.

Nadia Duncan

Author: Nadia Duncan


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