Lessons in starting a business

28th November 1997 at 00:00
More young people are considering working for themselves as the only viable option. There is money and advice available to set up a business.

ADVICE ON self-employment should form a core element of the curriculum, according to a report of Open Agenda, a training and education think tank .

Schools and colleges should create resource banks and draw on the experience of past pupils and parents if they are to prepare students adequately to face the increasingly likely prospect of self-employment.

"Any effective strategy to promote greater awareness of self-employment, as an option on a par with that of payroll employment, has to start in schools and colleges," the report says. "Somehow an appreciation of the potential benefits (and demands) of self-employment should form a core element of the school curriculum."

The Government is committed to incorporating careers education into the national curriculum from September next year. But rather than wait for reform, Open Agenda says its proposals are "capable of being implemented tomorrow".

Janice Cook, general secretary of the National Association of Careers and Guidance Teachers, agrees that swift action is needed to bring self-employment advice into line with workplace practice.

"Within any comprehensive careers guidance, self-employment would certainly be one of the options included in the programme," she said. "It's one of the options that all young people should consider, but it is a neglected area. Particularly in recent years, there has been such emphasis on league tables and the curriculum is so crowded that it hasn't always been included."

Careers education should be an integral part of the teaching process, she added. "We want it to be seen as the responsibility of all teachers that they look towards the employment pros-pects of their pupils."

The report, "Supporting Self-employment", also recommends the introduction of income bridges for the unemployed, a single government funding body for new enterprises, encouragement for the employed-ambitious (people in jobs who want to explore the possibility of setting up on their own) and the creation of an assessment gateway whereby people interested in self-employment could access help and advice via a long-term mentor.

Debates about self-employment should also avoid the common assumption that self-employment equals small business. "We tend to talk most of the time about new business start-ups," the report says. "There are now a growing number of freelancers and subcontractors who often need support to cope with becoming self-employed but do not see themselves as ever being in the position of running a business. They see their job as being that of running themselves. Talk to them about business start-ups and they assume you are talking about other people."

The shifting landscape of the labour market can be a daunting prospect for schoolchildren, especially if, once there, they find themselves having to go it alone.

"A lot of young people are still unaware of the structures and employment patterns out there," says Cathy Bereznicki of the Institute of Careers Guidance. "It's quite a hard concept to grasp that a career is not simply a job title. Some of them are still talking in terms of choosing a career as if that's what they're going to do all their lives.

"A lot of young people are just establishing what their resources and strengths are. When you talk to young people about self-employment, they tend to say it's something that they think about doing later in life. They are encouraged to think that self-employment is for old people and not for them."

Careers teachers should encourage pupils to look beyond their first job when they might have to consider self-employment as an option. "One of the problems is that too much careers education and advice focuses on the next step and not enough on projecting 10 or 20 years, says Ms Bereznicki. "You can't plan for that, but you can start thinking about it."

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