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Startups Why you should teach kids to be entrepreneurial thinkers

Not every kid is going to be an entrepreneur. If everyone had it in them to be a Richard Branson or a Mark Zuckerberg, there wouldn't be any standout successes.

That doesn't mean there isn't value in teaching youth to think like entrepreneurs. Educating future generations of contributing citizens to be entrepreneurial thinkers is crucial to Canada's economy.

At The Learning Partnership, I interact with top Canadian and international business leaders daily through CEO roundtables, business-education task forces and summits that reveal great insight on today's changing labour market.

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What I keep hearing from CEOs, HR departments, the business community and the work force in general is that employers value entrepreneurial thinking. Fresh thoughts, innovative ideas, the ability to ponder laterally and to synthesize information in unique ways – all of these lead to interesting solutions that help a business evolve, grow and remain competitive, especially on the global stage. This is true whether the "entrepreneur" is self-employed or works for someone else.

So entrepreneurial education is good for business and for the economy, but it's also good for the individual.

How so? First, consider the 14 per cent youth unemployment rate in Canada.

All young people have their own unique circumstances, but many do not get exposure to entrepreneurship because it isn't usually a standalone school subject such as math or science. If given the opportunity to learn about entrepreneurship early in their school journey, they might discover a career field they didn't know exists.

Students are struggling to find their way from education to employment. The paths are more complex and they don't have a lot of useful tools to help guide them. Early exposure to entrepreneurial education can help develop skills and attitudes that could enable them to approach their lives and careers with broader strokes and to consider more possibilities and opportunities, including the option of starting their own businesses.

Second, entrepreneurship teaches essential life skills, including resourcefulness, communication, financial literacy and managing risk – all of which will help students grow personally and professionally. I was not surprised to hear from a teacher running our Entrepreneurial Adventure program that the experience helped her class with algebra because the concepts suddenly had real-life applications.

Entrepreneurship is about much more than business. It is a way of thinking, of seeing opportunities and of exploring multiple solutions to a problem – skills that can be applied to life.

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Third, young people who are just starting out in the work force have to be entrepreneurial to build and manage their own careers.

People change jobs a number of times – and they even change careers over their lifetimes. So just as entrepreneurs think about the next evolution of their businesses, young people should think the same way about their career paths and how their evolving skill-sets can take them to the next level.

Last year, it may have been about improving presentation skills. This year, it could be about taking a financial course because budgeting is a big component of that next job or job level. By applying entrepreneurial thinking, young people can take ownership of their futures, understanding that accomplishment takes hard work, that not every attempt will succeed and that they need to continually learn, plan, try, fail, try again … and again until they get that first job or accomplish that next career goal.

Entrepreneurs are determined, confident, creative, self-motivated, innovative, curious and visionary. If we can teach all of our kids to think that way, we all stand to gain.

Akela Peoples is president and CEO of The Learning Partnership, a national charitable organization that supports, promotes and advances publicly funded education. She is a former educator and holds multiple awards for service, leadership, and entrepreneurship.

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