The Big Idea: Reset the Entrepreneurship Ecosystem with Education

Special Focus : Imagining the Future of Education
World of Work February 20, 2017
When we surveyed fresh graduates in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) about their lives, hopes, and challenges, two things stood out. 
First, 75% of fresh graduates in the Middle East and North Africa say that finding a job is the biggest challenge faced by their generation.
Second, when asked about the greatest challenge they face when looking for a job, the majority (51%) said that it was companies’ preference for candidates with work experience, which they lacked as fresh graduates. 
A classic catch-22. A case of what comes first, the job or the experience? 
In reality, what should come first is neither the job, nor the experience, but a solid, entrepreneurship-style education that prepares young people for productively entering the business ecosystem. An education that empowers them with enough useful knowledge to become more easily employable; quickly acclimatize and become productive if hired; and to even start their own businesses if they want to. 
Indeed, the benefits of an entrepreneurship-style education go beyond making fresh graduates more employable, but makes it easier for them to start new businesses, too. As many economic studies from around the globe will tell you, entrepreneurship is the surest way of development, directly affecting job creation, GDP growth, and increases in long-term productivity.
There’s a variety of ways in which governments and academic institutions can craft an entrepreneurship curriculum and develop an educational system that involves both theory and practice. Today, hands-on training is as necessary as great academics. In fact, the two are not mutually exclusive, rather necessarily accompanying. 
As far as the theoretical curriculum is concerned, according to the Entrepreneurship in the Middle East survey, which we conducted in mid-2016, the main challenges entrepreneurs face are ‘procuring the finances to start’ (according to 56%); ‘hiring the wrong people’ (41%); and the ‘uncertainty of profit/ income’ (35%). 
This may suggest that theoretical entrepreneurship education needs to address investment and finance basics, like how to get funding; management and HR strategies; as well as constructive thinking and how to deal with a challenging market. Furthermore, students will benefit greatly from taking classes geared towards improving interpersonal and soft skills, which can’t be learned with traditional education. 
Another way to come up with the correct entrepreneurship curriculum is to look at current issues. In another survey, we discovered that 57% of employers in the MENA say that finding candidates for senior positions with the required skills is difficult, with ‘soft skills’ regarded as most lacking, as opposed to ‘technical skills.’ Specifically, employers say that the skills most senior, older, candidates lack are ‘creative thinking’ (63%), ‘critical thinking and problem solving’ (63%), as well as ‘adaptability/managing multiple priorities’ (60%). 
These problems are not surprising. With overcrowded public schools and really young populations, students are graduating with little ability to think for themselves, instead focusing on memorizing verbose curricula. Teaching entrepreneurship basics (like strategies for idea generation, risk management, and translating problems into opportunities) would be one way to tackle this problem. 
Such a step would be a move in the right direction, but by itself would be insufficient.
The other side of the coin would be on-the-ground training, whether in the form of internships, mentorships, on-the-job training, or coaching. 
Times have changed, students have changed, and employers have changed. 
In the past, an impressive academic background would’ve been enough, but not in this day and age. Early involvement with work can provide prospective professionals with the stepping-stones needed to kick start their careers. Moreover, today, governments and educational institutions must also involve the private sector in the education-study ecosystem reform.
To create a new sustainable ecosystem, universities should reach out to industry leaders and companies to encourage them to place students in work-study programs that hone their interests, skills, and capabilities to produce a mutually beneficial experience. 
Students can be better prepared for the real world through immersion in the workforce, which, in return, will help them choose the right path after graduation, entrepreneurial or otherwise. 
Employers, on the other hand, can bring in and vet talent, regularly and inexpensively. Top talent is hard to find and even harder to retain. Through this, companies to make long-lasting hires based on actual and real-life knowledge of someone’s talents and  skills. 
And for governments? The benefits are most exciting. Governments need to quickly start building environments that nurture and sustain entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial education. Such measures will directly influence development by increasing job creation and productivity, which will lead to GDP growth and an adaptable economy. 
Through connecting the right parties together and creating a balanced relationship between them, the bright future we hope to foresee can become a reality. Entrepreneurship education and early involvement with the professional world need to become embedded within our societies. This is a group effort at all levels, it is about time we reinvent the wheel and get with the program.