Reviving an Age Old System: Part One- Life Skills and Preparation

Last week, we introduced the topic of how entrepreneurship could revive our education system. Over the course of the coming weeks, we’ll explore five areas of impact. To read our series introduction, click here.

Impact from Entrepreneurship on Life Skills and Preparation

Life skills can mean many things to many people. According to Wikipedia, “Life skills are abilities for adaptive and positive behavior that enable humans to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of life….the subject varies greatly depending on social norms and community expectations but skills that function for well-being and aid individuals to develop into active and productive members of their communities are considered as life skills.”  (no author, 2018). With the shift in our educational infrastructures to subject students to constant norm-based assessments of learned knowledge, teachers have relied heavily on “teaching to the test”, an approach that is crippling students of basic skills like critical thinking and problem solving. As more and more students are graduating high school, many are doing so without the basic skills needed to prepare them for life. The incorporation of an entrepreneurial education can be used to teach basic life skills and readiness to students regardless of the career path they choose to enter.


No one learns the same way—even typical learners. Individuals fall into four main types of learning styles: visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and reading/writing. (Elrick, 2018). As previously stated, the primary methods used to deliver content in classroom to students are a mix between lecture, text, and assessing. These types of delivery methods appeal to certain learning styles, but not all, making the ability to make meaningful connection to content difficult. When teaching using an entrepreneurial based approach, students are exposed to traditional subject matter like: reading, writing, math, economics, and science, but are also presented with the opportunity to learn 21stcentury skills through a relatable, real life experience.

Entrepreneurship presents teachers with the opportunity to meet all learners where they are, regardless of their learning style. Lauren Palmer, the 2015 Hyundai Skills of the Future winner, writes, “In schools, there is little talk of mortgages, loans or investments. There is usually little opportunity for young people to gain an insight into business, and the word ‘entrepreneur’ is usually paired with the faces of people like Branson or Lord Sugar in the media, not as something that everyone can be. Schools are brilliant at teaching skills to use in exams, but the focus is taken away from soft skills that advantage young people in the real world, when school finishes…the current education system is so focused on academic success, and there is a lack of soft skill focused teaching.In fact, by 2020, it is estimated that more than half a million workers will be held back by a lack of relevant business and life skills.” (Palmer, 2015). 

Palmer writes as a graduate who struggled to feel prepared for life after graduation and stated, “It was hard for me to convince a university to offer me a competitive place based on my previous exam results alone. I was not the only one, and studies have shown that in industry today, there is a significant skills gap in CVs and job applications.” She isn’t alone in her experience. Polls from major employers around the world show students are lacking the skills needed to prepare them for life, many of which struggle with simple skills like communication and problem solving. Palmer credits her success to extra-curricular programs like Skills for the Future, an organization that uses an entrepreneurial approach to equip students for life after the classroom. She believes by bringing in entrepreneurship to the academic setting, we can reinforce skills like: communication, critical thinking, time management, teamwork, financial literacy, dedication, and resilience. 

Students lack of life skills and preparation don’t just effect their success in college or the workplace, it affects their ability to be self-sufficient.  A 2016 PEW Research Poll showed for the first time in 130 years, more adult children are living at home than ever before. (Domonoske, 2016). Without the ability to critically think and problem solve, many adult children don’t know how to care for themselves. Our “teaching to the test” approach has removed the ability for children to think outside of the box. By adding in a project based, entrepreneurial education, students can interact with real life problems in a safe environment, all while reinforcing the necessary skills needed for success in any career, not just entrepreneurship. Providing this type of educational support can help prepare our typical learners for both the workforce and adult life.


Taking into consideration the various learning styles in which individuals learn, the atypical learner tends to be more kinesthetic and visual. Reviewing the traditional classroom learning styles of lecture, text, and assessing, atypical learners are the ones who tend to stick out in these situations---and not in a positive way. Often labeled with behavioral problems, as definite, slow learners, or disinterested, atypical learners, like those with learning differences like ADHD and dyslexia, while capable, fail to understand or stay engaged with material in the manner it’s presented. With content being delivered over long stretches of stationary time, atypical learners tend to struggle to make connection largely because their brain isn’t wired that way. These students are also twice as likely to drop out of school as a result.

On average, 1 out of every 10 people in America is dyslexic, yet over 35% of entrepreneurs identify with the learning difference, and more than 55% of Americas most successful entrepreneurs reportedly have been identified.  Additionally, 4.4% of the US population has been diagnosed as ADD/ADHD and it’s been reported that roughly 60% of the entrepreneur community have it. (ADD Resource Center, 2014). So, while our classrooms label these students as problematic and slow, the reality tends to reveal a problem with the institutional approach. 

In an article published by the Economist in June 2012, it states, “Entrepreneurs display a striking number of mental oddities.Dyslexics learn how to delegate tasks early (getting other people to do their homework, for example). They gravitate to activities that require few formal qualifications and demand little reading or writing. Attention-deficit disorder (ADD) is another entrepreneur-friendly affliction: people who cannot focus on one thing for long can be disastrous employees but founts of new ideas…Those square pegs may not have an easy time in school. They may be mocked by jocks and ignored at parties. But these days no serious organization can prosper without them.” Throughout the article, they reference many famous entrepreneurs with learning disabilities like: Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, Charles Scwab and even how early investors in Facebook commented that, “Mark Zuckerberg has a touch of Asperger’s.” While the writer believed that typical learners will “do just fine”, they believed every business needed employees with learning disabilities.

Knowing that employers are finding graduates lacking necessary skills to be successful, the idea that students with learning disabilities, who are more likely to drop out raises the question, how prepared are they? The Heritage Foundation found that high school drop outs are more than twice as likely to live in poverty, be unemployed, and go to jail and in her report, research assistant, Mary Clare Amselem, writes, “Schools must gear their energies toward determining how best to develop the non-cognitive skills associated with success in school and beyond...Education is arguably the most crucial factor that contributes to a child’s ability to move up the economic ladder.” (2014). 

Exposing atypical learners to an entrepreneur-based education helps provide a meaningful academic environment that not only helps students make meaningful connections to content, but it has shown to keep them more engaged, thus helping prevent them from wanting to drop out. Amselem believes, “For many young Americans, the decision of whether or not to complete high school is the first significant choice they will make in life and it will decisively influence their future. Encouraging students to acquire the skills needed to make the right decision is crucial for their chances of upward mobility.”

Research supports the benefit to both the typical and atypical learners life skills and preparation can be found from the implementation of an entrepreneurial education. Next week we will explore how entrepreneurship has shown to increase students employability and can provide realistic career options.

About the Author:

Amber Wakem, 2018 ; photo courtesy of Sidney Hollingsworth Photography

Amber Wakem, 2018; photo courtesy of Sidney Hollingsworth Photography

Amber Wakem holds a Bachelors of Art in Elementary Education. After teaching early childhood for nearly a decade in both a public and private setting, Wakem grew frustrated by the lack of support her young dyslexic daughter, Harper, received. Despite accommodations, Harper’s classroom struggles affected her social and emotional well being—her once bright child disappeared. However, it was through Harper’s self-governed interest in entrepreneurship, Wakem saw her daughter come to life, her brilliant brain shining through. Instantly, she realized how powerful this type of education was and left her job to start Start-Up Kids Club. Wakem’s passion for entrepreneurship have extended past the impact it’s had on her own daughter by watching how it’s affected the community around her. Today she continues to shake up the way we look at education by advocating for inclusive practices beyond standard accommodations and pushing for a broader incorporation of 21st Century Skills through an entrepreneurial education.

Start-Up Kids Club was forged in the belief that by teaching ALL kids entrepreneurial skills we have the power to shape the world by broadening perspectives and enhancing life skills through community, connection, and experience. As a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, SKC relies heavily on the support from the community to fulfill its mission. Show your support today.

No Author, (2018). Life skills. Wikipedia. Retrieved from:

Elrich, Lauren. (2018). 4 types of learning styles: how to accommodate a diverse group of 

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Palmer, Lauren. (2015). Why should we bring entrepreneurship education in schools? Retrieved 


Domonoske, Camilia. (2016). For first time in 130 years, more young adults live with parents 

than with partners. Retrieved from:

No Author. (2014). Statistical prevalence of ADHD. Retrieved from:

In praise of misfits; schumpeter. (2012, Jun 02). The Economist, 403, 84-n/a. Retrieved from:


Amselem, Mary Clare. (2014). Barriers to high school completion create barriers to economical

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Amber Wakem