Helping Young People Make a Life

Helping Young People Make a Life

26th of April, 2021

In the UK, our secondary schools prepare young people for one of three ‘destinations’ (1): future education, training and employment.  Our education system is geared towards these.  A good set of exam results enables entrance to University.  A good degree will result in a ‘proper job’.  A proper job will pay enough money to buy a house and support a family. 

This may have worked in the nuclear age, but does this work now?

Our government is investing in programmes such as the ‘Kickstart’ apprentice scheme.  Yet according to weekend media reports this is producing very few opportunities for young people compared to the targets and forecasts.  Today’s undergraduate students are required to take out student loans to pay fees and accommodation.  They therefore start their careers with large debts.  There are reports that many young people are delaying or declining to start a family due to costs and environmental concerns.  What is clear is that the three destinations are not working for everyone, nor building the society envisaged.

Yet there is a fourth option that is missing from our Education System.  Self-employment.

Many young people start businesses while at school – some even while they are at primary school.  While we encourage entrepreneurialism through Young Enterprise and other programmes, there is an element of ‘proper job’ to the programmes.  Well-meaning adults include elements they think our young entrepreneurs need.  Young people write business plans and marketing plans before testing their products or services.  We put the price they will charge at the heart of the conversation, before working out if they are meeting a need.  They are required to create forecasts for cashflow based on notional costs, incomes and profits.  These all look great on paper, and are easy for teachers to mark, but they seldom help create a sustainable business.

Instead, here is my recommendation: a very simple process to start a business.

  1. Find out what the young person is passionate about;
  2. Help them find some people they can help;
  3. Measure the difference they make when they help them;
  4. If there is value in the difference made, we have the start of a new business.

If a young person has a passion, whatever it may be, this should be encouraged.  As grown-ups, we should simply notice when they are making a difference for themselves or for others, and facilitate them making more of a difference where they can.  If we look for the skills they develop and apply, and compliment them when we see them, we can help them build the confidence they need to go and talk with others.  In talking with others, they might find some people they can help.  If there is a value to that help, whether through a product or a service, there is the making of a new business.

As grown ups, instead of designing complex programmes at vast expense, we can run simple programmes instead.  Let’s encourage them to explore what works for them, and help them turn their passions into making a difference for others.  You never know, that process might lead to them discovering their own path, with less debt and greater happiness.  That is the greatest way we can help our young people define what is, after all, their future.


  1. – OFSTED, ’16 to 18 accountability measures: technical guide’, UK Government, p.50,

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