Thierry Villers: Schools no longer encourage entrepreneurship

  • At the start of the school year, the head of Mini-enterprise has shown the way ahead
  • The entrepreneurship awareness program offered to secondary school students will attract 2,500 mini-entrepreneurs this year

They haven’t reached their 18th birthday, yet they are finance managers, human resources or public relations directors, and marketing, accounting or development managers. Some 2,500 secondary school students try their hand at a Mini-enterprise adventure every year. This program teaches the entrepreneurial spirit through simulated business creation in participating schools in Wallonia and Brussels. For the beginning of the academic year, Thierry Villers, manager of the non-profit organization “Les Jeunes Enterprises” (Young Enterprises), reaffirms its context and points the way forward.

Who is Mini-enterprise’s target?

We’re open to everyone from general schools to technical and professional schools. Those who are destined to create their own companies are mostly people learning manual and artisanal trades. These are your plumbers, bakers, woodworkers, people who work with their hands as well as with their minds. General academic classes include more than economic science students even if they’re in the majority. Our goal is to reach those following scientific or liberal arts curricula. There’s another reason for Mini-enterprise. It brings together young people who don’t know each other very well, if at all. This way, they learn that everyone can provide his or her own contribution. It’s obvious that there is a demand. Last year we had 2,350 mini-entrepreneurs in about 220 mini-businesses over about 80 schools.

Is it because of a lack of relevant raining in secondary education that this program exists and that you enjoy this degree of success?

Yes! Clearly! The subject isn’t provided in school. The teaching world doesn’t even see the subject as relevant. I also think that as a parent it’s important to give young people a chance to discover and experience a major piece of a broad range of professions. More specifically, it’s not covered enough in schools anymore. In my own case, when I was in primary school, I remember having visited a bakery along with a number of other types of workplaces. Now my son has graduated from primary school without ever having set foot in a place of business. I think this is unfortunate. In addition, this type of experience can help guide young people in their future career paths and by extension their choice of studies. I often hear mini-entrepreneurs say, “Being in the role of a financial manager, marketing manager or human resources director really helped me.” It also goes the other way: “I wanted to go into accounting, and I came to realize that I actually don’t like numbers at all.” It’s obvious that this type of more active teaching is missing from school. Now, I understand that it’s not so simple.

In real terms, what does this mean for the students?

Mini-enterprise is a unique way for young people to play a role in creating a business. This is key. It’s the chance to develop “business” skills such as team spirit, creativity, a sense of responsibility, initiative, perseverance, self-confidence etc. And that’s not all. It’s about experiencing a real and exciting project and all in all, it’s a lot of fun.

And what about the parents in all this?

An Ipsos poll recently showed that the first impediment young people experience in creating a business is that their environment does not encourage them to even attempt it. There is a fear of risk. “You have no idea! You’re better off working for a salary! It’s more secure etc.” Behind this is a real entrepreneurial cultural problem. The low entrepreneur rate in Belgium (about 4% of Belgians) is not due to the lack of candidates but to an environmental problem that does not consider business ownership to be a good career path and an occupation like any other. This is the message we’d like to send to the parents.

Interview by OLIVIER CROUGHS

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