Belfast Telegraph

Crossing the divide to sample a taste of Canada

Now in its 12th year, a cross-border scheme still aims high by giving teenagers a vital boost as they attempt to map out a route to make it in the recession-hit world of business

By Clare Weir

Back in March, Prime Minister David Cameron urged would-be entrepreneurs to "make it happen" and help drive the economic recovery.

And while it has often been a complaint that young school leavers are not always equipped with the skills for the workplace and business, one group is making sure that teenagers from all over Northern Ireland and the Republic are getting a head start when it comes to developing a sense of enterprise.

Supported by the International Fund for Ireland and run jointly by Young Enterprise Northern Ireland and Junior Achievement Ireland, the year-long Knowledge through Enterprise for Youth (KEY) Programme has provided training and development opportunities to more than 10,000 young people over the last 12 years.

The scheme invited young people from marginalised communities on both sides of the border to develop enterprise and entrepreneurial skills and enhance their understanding of other traditions. Participants are drawn from almost 80 schools in Northern Ireland and the Republic's border counties.

During the programme they collaborate in a series of workshops and enterprise tasks that challenge them to develop products and pricing models before selling to local markets and allow ing them to explore selling on a cross-border basis.

Earlier this year 900 young people celebrated the completion of the initiative at a graduation ceremony in Belfast - but that isn't where the story ends.

At the culmination of the programme, 12 young people are selected to travel to Canada to join 200 young business leaders at the Next Generation Leaders Forum.

Last week the lucky dozen and their parents met up and heard more about their schedule.

Speaking at the graduation ceremony, Dr Adrian Johnston, IFI chairman said that the programme prepares young people for the diversity of the workplace.

"The business world is a practical backdrop that illustrates how diversity, respect and understanding interact for the benefit of all.

"From its inception 12 years ago the KEY Programme has continually exceeded all expectations and targets.

"It fulfils a dual role of developing confidence and fundamental business skills while promoting understanding and tolerance.

Carol Fitzsimons, chief executive officer of Young Enterprise Northern Ireland, added: "This programme has thrived because of the immense enthusiasm, ambition and talent of the students and the support from the International Fund for Ireland."

My View

By Jemma Parks

Learning by doing - this really is so true, I learnt so much and I didn't even realise it until I reflect back on it.

Key Programme is run by Young Enterprise Northern Ireland in partnership with Junior Achievement Ireland and supported by The International Fund for Ireland.

Specifically aimed at making a positive impact on young people at a critical stage of their development, the objectives, through cross-community interaction, are to raise aspirations through the teaching of vital life skills. By creating a positive and enthusiastic attitude in participants and getting them to realise the value of remaining in education to benefit their own futures, the vision of the project is to make a difference to them and the communities in which they live.

The programme also includes personal development through outdoor adventure with a focus on communication skills, leadership qualities and developing a healthy and enjoyable attitude to life.

I genuinely find it hard to sum up the Key Programme; it's so good on so many different levels. It's amazing for those pupils who have not quite developed out of their shell just yet, as many of the activities you do in enterprise training and on the outdoor activities demand you to give it your all. By Residential 3 you are so much more comfortable and things just come so much more naturally to you regardless if you're a quiet person or not.

On Key you learn to express yourself in different but effective ways that will benefit you in your future.

On Residential 1 you meet so many amazing people but you don't really realise how amazing they are until the last residential. Everyone is shy and sticking to their own groups and it's awkward, but the odd few will venture out to make friends with the others from the other schools, this is an important thing to do, it makes you a more approachable person, helps you build up your communication and relationship skills and in the future you will find when it comes in handy when you are getting contacts it will be easy for you to go and chat and make friends.

When on the outdoor activities I thought that it was a great idea to mix the schools up as it gave you a chance to meet new people and get to know them as well as engage with them. I think with going to an integrated school we were all familiar with different culture and religions therefore it was easy to accept the others cultures and religions. Also I found it interesting how the others from down south and up north lived and their views and opinions on things.

From the Key Programme I have gained so many experiences which will be with me forever. It lets us do things and experience things we wouldn't normally or never would have got an opportunity to do experience, for that I really appreciate it. I have learnt how and what I need to do to set up a business through the trade fair.

Also I've learnt a lot with survival skills and I have memories that I will remember for the rest of my life. Over all it was an amazing experience and really worth it.

After every residential I came back with a buzz and I couldn't stop thinking of it as everything we did was so positive and a lot of fun. It helps us discover undiscovered emotions that we didn't know we had. It helps you to discover your adventurous side and also your business skills. The Key Programme believed in me when even I didn't, it's taught me I can be whatever I want to if I set myself goals I can achieve them as I've gained all the skills I need for later life.

It's also taught me how to conquer all fears that I may have had due to participating in the outdoor activities. I have learnt how to develop positive life skills and life experiences so that I can pursue them in my life.

The Key Programme is an unforgettable experience.

Jemma Parks is from Brownlow Integrated College

The next generation that made the list

Each year, 12 participants who display exceptional entrepreneurial skills are rewarded with a trip to the Next Generation Leaders Conference to be held at St Mary's University, Halifax, Nova Scotia in Canada. The 12 winners for 2012 are:

  • Sean McAree, Beech Hill College, Monaghan
  • Abigail Mohan, Our Lady's Monaghan
  • James Proctor, Edmund Rice College, Belfast
  • Mairtin Lavery, St Patrick's College Belfast
  • Katie Harrigan, Mercy College, Sligo
  • Peter Teague, St John's Business and Enterprise College, Dromore
  • Kevin O'Neill, Christian Brothers School, Belfast
  • Claire Davey, Little Flower Girls School, Belfast
  • Amy Gibbs, Colaiste na Carraige, Donegal
  • Brendan Murray, North Coast Integrated College
  • Emma McNeill, Lisnagarvey High School, Lisburn

Five with high hopes ahead of the conference

Meabh Noble (16), Our Lady of Mercy College, Belfast

I have always wanted to start my own business and I was selected to take part in the Key Programme last year.

Everyone enjoys the team building and the outdoor activities but the business conference and the chance to speak to people you would never normally meet was a brilliant opportunity. I gained so much confidence and I have a much better idea about what I want to do with my life and how I will be able to do it.

Sean McAree (16), Beech Hill College, Monaghan

When I leave school I want to become a forensic scientist. I've been looking around for a job while I am still at school but there is nothing out there and it is worrying. I am pleased to have been selected for the Key Programme because I hope it will give me extra skills when I am out there looking for work. A friend of mine went last year and he had an amazing time and I hope I get just as much out of it as he did.

James Proctor (18), Edmund Rice College, Belfast

I would like to go into sports business and am really looking forward to the conference. I have had a look at the schedule for the trip and it looks really exciting. I think anything that helps young people get into business and work is good, but the fact that we have the opportunity to travel abroad to learn new skills is even better. I feel really lucky to have been selected for the trip and I hope I learn a lot from it.

Emma McNeill (15), Lisnagarvey High School, Lisburn

I am looking forward to the opportunity to speak to and learn from people in another country. No one wants to have to leave Northern Ireland to find work but I think this will be a good chance to go and see how things are done and to experience somewhere different. I would like to be a music teacher and I am hoping this trip will help give me more confidence and help me achieve the things I want to. Like others, I worry when I see how hard it is to find a job right now and this trip will be great for my CV.

Mairtin Lavery (18), St Patrick's College Belfast

The biggest thing with the Key Programme will be that it can help me to get a job. School is good but not everyone goes to university and there are some skills you need for life that can't be taught in the classroom. I enjoyed the business training and the business side of the Key Programme so I'm looking forward to the conference in Canada.