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Save Entrepreneurship by Getting 11-Year-Olds Into Starting Businesses

Middle-school students probably aren’t spending much time obsessing over future job prospects. Their parents—as well as economists and researchers—are.

For good reason. A recent Brookings Institute report revealed that for the first time in 30 years, the percentage of firms departing the economy exceeded those entering it. This is due less to the number of company deaths, which has remained relatively stable, than to the number of new firms, which as a percentage of all companies fell by half during this period.

These results are further supported by the annual index of entrepreneurial activity released by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in April. The report found a continuing decline in entrepreneurial activity in 2013, with the number of business startups back at the prerecession levels of 2006.

This trend should be especially troubling on two fronts: Most jobs are created by new companies, and the skills coveted by companies are those related to entrepreneurship. A Gallup poll from late last year found that the traits employers want new hires to have include the capacity to recognize opportunity, the willingness to take calculated risks, and the ability to pursue goals with a strong sense of purpose—hallmarks of the entrepreneurship mindset.

The decline in new business and lack of entrepreneurship are clearly related. And the cause—as well as the solution—may lie in our education system, which is not doing enough to teach these basic entrepreneurship skills and attitudes.

It’s true that entrepreneurship programs have been on the rise over the last decade, particularly at colleges and universities. Even U.S. high school have begun to add entrepreneurship programs.

We we need more, and we shouldn’t wait until students are in college to teach them about entrepreneurship and starting a business.

A 2012 study in the Netherlands found that entrepreneurship education in students as young as 11 and 12 had helped the development of certain non-cognitive skills associated with entrepreneurs. The research found that the entrepreneurship education program increased students’ self-efficacy, need for achievement, risk taking propensity, and analytical (problem solving) skills—all of which are extremely important to anyone starting a business and are qualities employers eagerly seek.

On the long, slow road to economic recovery, a stumble in American entrepreneurship is a bad omen for future employment. Still, it’s fixable. Let’s teach entrepreneurship as a skill and the mindset that it is to kids at a much earlier age. That way, when today’s middle-school students reach the age at which they begin to weigh career options, they will have adaptable, workplace-ready skills, including those they need to start own ventures and create jobs.

Gold is Vice-President for Research at the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, a nonprofit organization that works with young people in low-income communities.

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