Building the ‘can-do, will do’ generation

Anthony Gribben, Head of Enterprise and Entrepreneurship, European Training Foundation

I participated in a meeting in Brussels in December 2016 with youth workers and others involved in supporting youth development across Europe. The findings of a study, financed by the European Commission, which examined how entrepreneurship is promoted amongst young people, were shared at the meeting. There were no big surprises. 


The report highlighted that youth work rarely engaged in entrepreneurship promotion. And that entrepreneurship was misunderstood primarily in terms of business development - not key competences, although there were good examples where youth work was contributing to phenomena associated with entrepreneurship as a key competence e.g. creativity and teamwork. 

One interesting finding of the study, however, was that youth policy is invariably defined in terms of disadvantage while opportunity, as factor in youth policy, was never addressed. 

I led a breakout group that addressed this disadvantage-opportunity nexus. By way of example, we focused on how young people respond to crisis in their local communities. High unemployment, migration, terrorism and natural disasters (e.g. flooding) were identified as specific challenges affecting many EU member states. But young people were rarely engaged to find solutions to the crises. Why?

The breakout group underlined how young people often lacked confidence, self-belief and capacity to be more proactive in their communities. There was rarely an entrepreneurial response to challenges in their communities, i.e. finding an opportunity in the crisis and acting upon it. This fed into a cynical and negative perception of young people within broader society – the ‘me, me generation’ as uncaring, irresponsible and unengaged.

A second factor from the discussions was that young people are growing up in a culture shaped by expectation and dependency. Parents, schools, and wider societal institutions (e.g. local government) were inadvertently disempowering young people by assuming responsibility and accountability for areas of young people’s lives for which they themselves were responsible and accountable as teenagers. This further contributed to lack of confidence and proactive engagement of young people in responding to crises in their communities. 

A third issue from the discussions was that there was no understanding or recognition as to how the eco-system of a local community (e.g. schools, youth clubs, sporting venues, arts, local government) could better meet the needs of young people in terms of their active engagement and contribution. Learning-by-doing, through community engagement, was under-recognised in developing the entrepreneurial mind-set and skills of young people;

In short, our 21st century parenting, schooling and socialisation processes have been responsible for building a ‘can’t do’ generation. So what can we do? Can entrepreneurship promotion for young people make a difference?

The ethos and direction of the latest European Commission policy instruments to promote entrepreneurship through education and training go some way to encouraging parents, schools and policymakers in building a ‘can do, will do’ attitude amongst young people.  

The EU Entrepreneurship Competence Framework helps teachers to determine how the teaching and learning experience can build the ‘can do’ mind-set. Meanwhile, recommendations that all young people acquire an entrepreneurial experience by the time they leave school (EU 2020 Entrepreneurship Action Plan) prompts greater focus on ‘learning by doing’. This is important in building young people’s self-confidence and self-efficacy. 

But the task cannot be left solely to the schools. It is a society-wide responsibility. Parents, sports clubs, youth volunteer organisations, businesses employing young people all have a role to play building a next generation of young people ready and willing to bring value to their local communities. 

The youth development meeting in Brussels concluded that youth work and development could provide important leverage in building young people’s capacity and contribution to crises in their communities. It recommended that projects promoting entrepreneurial responses of young people to challenges in their local communities be supported and good practices shared. 

Certainly more empirical work is required to test out some of the assumptions raised in this blog. But I was delighted to read an Erasmus+ call for proposals in February 2017 (so soon after the Brussels meeting). This call specifically addresses youth entrepreneurship and local development. It targets youth support organisations from the EU28 and the EU Eastern Partnership countries (click here for details, deadline 8 March). Readers of this blog – please disseminate this call! Even better, please comment below if you agree or disagree with points I make here! And please, please share your own ideas as to how build the next ‘can do, will do’ generation!


Category : education Posted : 21 February 2017 10:42 UTC
About the Author
Anthony Gribben, Head of Enterprise and Entrepreneurship, European Training Foundation

Anthony Gribben is Head of Enterprise and Entrepreneurship at the European Training Foundation in Turin. His earlier career included youth development work in inner London. He has over 30 years’ experience in education, training and labour market reform of which 25 have been spent working with transition and middle–income economies. He is an experienced trainer and performance management specialist. In cooperation with the European Commission, he spearheaded the development of policy indicators on entrepreneurial learning in the Western Balkans, Eastern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. He writes and blogs on entrepreneurship. @tonygribben 

Related Articles

We use cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Find out more here.

I accept cookies from this site: