Is STEM education failing to prepare entrepreneurs of the future?

How would you describe Generation Y graduates of today?

Many believe they’re digitally savvy and naturally resourceful. And with role models like Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Mashable’s Pete Cashmore to look up to, they’re also astoundingly driven and positive, with more than half of them aspiring to joining a start-up after their studies.

It’s no wonder really. Recent research reveals that 27 per cent of graduates believe joining a start-up or becoming a solopreneur will make them more money than choosing a more traditional career path. Plus 45 per cent are motivated to become their own boss. But is Britain’s traditional STEM education conducive to this new direction? Or is it proving to be a little bit outdated for Generation Y?

"While [the non-traditional route] isn’t for everyone, joining a growing entrepreneurial organisation is a way of experiencing the zeal and dynamism of a start-up without taking on the risk," says Duncan Cheatle, CEO and founder of RiseTo, a job matching site for young people. "A by-product of working for a start-up is the speed at which a career in a smaller organisation can be fast-tracked.

"Many people who join start-ups at grad level will find themselves in a senior position within a few years, taking on responsibility that’s much beyond their years. That’s because, by their nature, smaller companies don't follow the same regimented career protocol as bigger firms."

As well as being digitally savvy and resourceful, he also believes many Generation Y students have a few ‘soft skill traits’ in common – ‘Resilience’, ‘Drive’, ‘Determination’ and a ‘Can-Do Attitude’. They make up the recipe for a budding entrepreneur, he says, but if we want to nurture them, it might be time we re-think the STEM curriculum used across UK schools.

Read: How Finland built the world's most admired education system

Soft Skills vs A-Star Grades

"It’s high time the Government made the STEM curriculum a bit more flexible to our ever-evolving solopreneur economy," Cheatle says. "There’s a lot to be said for the STEM approach to teaching but, as a nation, if we want to compete on a global level, we need to become more entrepreneurial and innovative. That starts at school."

Many other entrepreneurs agree, including a large segment of the app and tech industry. "The UK needs investment into STEM education to place coding, along with entrepreneurship on the national curriculum," Pocket App founder Andrew Hull told Tech Week Europe.

But introducing entrepreneurship into our schools’ curriculum may not be as simple as it sounds. A few years back, Dragon’s Den’s Peter Jones argued that entrepreneur qualifications needed to "expose students to real-life issues in real business environments" in order for them to gain a real understanding of the start-up world.

With STEM curriculums already pushed to the limits in terms of teaching hours and resources, does this mean that students should wait until their Further Education years to glean these vital entrepreneurial skills? Or is waiting to study a diploma or a post-graduate course too late?

Can Entrepreneurialism Be Taught?

While some believe there’s a big gaping hole in the STEM curriculum that should be filled with lessons on ‘how to think outside of the box’ others believe entrepreneurialism simply cannot be taught.

Chairman of Terra Firma Capital Partners Guy Hands argues that David Cameron’s call on schools to bring entrepreneurialism into the classroom is not the answer. "These are not qualities that can necessarily be taught," he wrote in an opinion piece for City AM. "What the experience of more successful nations teaches us is that it is not the classroom but culture as a whole that counts. Without the right conditions, individual entrepreneurial spirit will be stifled."

Read: Teaching girls to code with a bracelet

Some of these ‘conditions’ Hands speaks about include ‘labour flexibility’, few ‘bureaucratic burdens’ and ‘world-class infrastructure’, which in his mind, will help us create a society where growing an entrepreneurial company is a reality, rather than a dream.

This is where organisations like Rise to and StartUp Britain come in; the first helping match those with entrepreneurial flair to the jobs that suit them and the second, helping people grow their self-created businesses through StartUp ‘Local Champions’, mentoring groups and nationwide initiatives.

Cheatle believes education and infrastructure shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. He suggests it’s a combination of education and government support where the answer lies.

"As it stands, our whole education system is about rules and a strict formula," he says, "I would like to see an element of flexibility introduced to the curriculum to encourage creativity from a young age. It’s what we, as a nation, do well: combining science with innovation and creativity."

We’ve certainly got the role models in place. And a huge proportion of Generation Y clearly have the appetite and the ‘can-do’ attitude needed for a start-up career.

But do we need an overhaul of the current STEM curriculum in order to nurture an entrepreneurial society where they can thrive? And is our government prepared to take the controversial step to do it? I guess we’ll just have to watch this space and see.

This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. Thumbnail from gettyimages.

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