More than 4,500 South East pupils are meeting the challenge of growing youth unemployment by running their own real companies for a year with help from the charity Young Enterprise.
The students have set up a wide range of businesses at schools across the region with guidance from local business volunteers - in a move that will give them a head start when the time comes to get a job.
By signing up for the Young Enterprise Company Programme, the 4,540 South East students join a total of 25,000 young people, aged between 15 and 19, from around the UK chasing the top prize at a glittering national final in London in July.
But it is not just the prospect of winning the competition that attracts them. The young business people will acquire valuable skills that employers want - at a time when the number of 16 to 24-year-olds out of work has hit 64,000 in the region and topped one million nationally.
Many participants have gone on to outstanding business success. Research that Young Enterprise commissioned from the Freshminds consultancy shows alumni of the scheme go on to earn a third more than their peers by the time they reach age 30. They are twice as likely to start their own business as their peers.
Alumni are more passionate about their jobs, with 77 per cent saying they feel fulfilled and engaged by their work, compared to only 59 per cent of the control group.
Overall, the alumni felt that Young Enterprise contributed to their skill development more than anything else, including work experience, extra-curricular activities and school.
The Company Programme is the flagship Programme offered by Young Enterprise in its efforts to tackle what British industry sees as an employability crisis.
A separate Young Enterprise Business Education Survey of 28 leading UK employers found that an astonishing 75 per cent felt that the British education system is not equipping young people with the right ‘employability’ skills they look for when taking on new recruits.
These skills include teamwork, punctuality, reliability, the ability to apply abstract knowledge to real life problems, a willingness to be of service to others, and customer awareness – all qualities Young Enterprise seeks to foster.
The programme is an extremely stretching challenge in which young people have to raise real finance by selling shares, do market research, appoint company directors, develop their own product or service, trade with the public, and compete with other schools and colleges in the company of the year competition.
Catherine Marchant of Young Enterprise said: ‘’It is hugely encouraging that so many students have launched themselves into business by running their own real firms as part of the Young Enterprise Company Programme.
“Our research shows taking part massively improves young people’s chances of landing a job. We are the last people to downplay the importance of good basic skills in maths, English and science. But employers are crying out for recruits who can do more than answer theoretical questions on an exam paper.
“The success of the Company Programme is a massive demonstration of the power of enterprise education to transform young people’s lives and make a substantial contribution to the revival of the British economy.’’