I was not, to any reasonable observer, one of those proverbially ‘promising students.’ I spent most of my early school days confined to detention rooms transcribing the dictionary as punishment for persistent misbehaviour and general disregard for the facts, dates and maxims my teachers presented. I watched my father put aside his entrepreneurial potential to work for a large company as an engineer and decided I wasn’t interested in working for someone else. But nothing I was studying fed my natural curiosity – passion, really – for real estate entrepreneurship.
Luckily in high school, mathematics became easy for me. Solid marks propelled me into the University of Waterloo, and after some misadventures in actuarial science, I combined my talent for math with that passion to dive deep into learning all facets of real estate. That decision led me to a point where I formed my own real estate portfolio and development company. I’ve been celebrating that risky decision, in earnest, for the last eight years.
I cannot help but think that if the school system had offered me different tools – the creativity to generate ideas, the self-confidence to take calculated risks, and the critical thinking skills to learn from my mistakes – my path from principal’s office to home office might have been much smoother.
Entrepreneurship teaches those skills. And all kids – regardless of career ambition – could benefit from them. So why isn’t entrepreneurship part of the curriculum?
Today, it’s my kids who are in the classroom. Certainly, many parents want to see their kids follow in their career footsteps. But for me, it’s not my role as an entrepreneur that makes me want to see entrepreneurship in the classroom, but my role as a parent.
As my 5-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter embark on their journeys through the public education system, I cannot help but reflect on my own experience.
One of the strongest convictions to come out of these reflections is that entrepreneurship programs, or programs that incorporate an entrepreneurial context, should be integrated as one of the foundational building blocks of the 21st century curriculum. My reasons might be rooted in my own history, but they’re pragmatic, and shaped with current economic realities and the working world of the future in mind. I think we could better prepare the next generation for career success.
Having observed the working world of my father’s generation, and now creating employment myself, I feel well-positioned to argue that the working world has changed. A university education used to guarantee a long-term job in a large company. Not anymore. Today, large companies are disappearing. Employment opportunities are short-term. Most people in tomorrow’s working world will find employment filling niche gaps, providing goods and services. People who are unprepared for that reality will be unable to provide for themselves. They will need to think like entrepreneurs.
That’s why I began honing my kids’ entrepreneurial skills at four years old. That may seem young, but it’s not. My kids don’t understand business plans and cash flow statements yet, but they do understand that when they use their imaginations and do cool things people like, rewards are associated with that. That’s where entrepreneurial thinking begins.
Entrepreneurs think in ways other people don’t. They enjoy conceptualizing – companies, apps, technologies – and making ideas real. They enjoy persuading people to buy into their results. Achieving that buy-in requires financial literacy, planning, teamwork, presentation skills, risk management, marketing and an enterprising mindset.
The creativity required to generate new ideas; the willingness to take calculated risks; the ability to think critically about mistakes and learn from them; the resilience to try and try again; the self-confidence required to lead and to engage others, explain your ideas and get buy-in – all these abilities are critical life skills, indispensable whether you work for yourself or for a large company. And that is the reason to educate all students – in the arts, reading, writing, mathematics and science – in the context of entrepreneurship.
Maybe my kids will follow in my footsteps. Maybe they’ll want and land a job at a giant multinational company instead. In either case, I still want them to be able to innovate, be independent and present themselves well. Don’t you want the same for your kids?
Adrian Ransome is a real estate entrepreneur, commercial mortgage agent and chair of The Learning Partnership’s Entrepreneurial Adventure advisory committee. His company, Key Properties Group (KPG)is a partnership that buys and renovates small rental properties in specific markets in southern Ontario.