“The more entrepreneurs we have, the stronger our economies will become. Entrepreneurship generates wealth and employment and it enables individuals to reach their full potential,” said Ian Pearson, MP, Minister for Enterprise, Trade & Investment, speaking at the Young Enterprise Key Programme Graduation Ceremony.

The Minister was presenting awards to participants of the Key Programme, an initiative which takes an innovative approach to the personal development of young people from disadvantaged areas in Northern Ireland.

The Programme is managed jointly by Young Enterprise Northern Ireland (YENI) and Junior Achievement Ireland, and is funded by the International Fund for Ireland.

Addressing the audience, which included over 500 participants from the 2002-2003 Key Programme, the Minister said: “KEY is the only enterprise training programme of its kind in the UK and Ireland.

“By taking part in KEY, each of you has demonstrated skills and abilities that you may not even have realised you had just a few months ago. If the programme has given some of you the ambition to become entrepreneurs, it has given you the key you can use to unlock the door to your future success.”

The Key Programme is run on a residential basis, taking the young people, aged 14 –16, away four times a year to attend workshops and modules on career planning, interviewing, and entrepreneurship and enterprise skills.

The Programme aims to help young people create and recognise opportunity, and by encouraging them to see the link between education and employment, to prevent early drop-out from school. As a cross border community initiative it also promotes community relations.

Recent research shows that the Key Programme has had a significant impact on levels of school attendance and truancy levels among participants and an evaluation of the programme found that over 90% of participants felt more confident and understood better the link between education and careers.

Underlining the importance of introducing the idea of entrepreneurship to young people while still at school, the Minister added: “Through the Accelerating Entrepreneurship Strategy my Department, along with Invest Northern Ireland, is striving to increase the level of entrepreneurship in Northern Ireland. In this task we are working with numerous organisations, including other government departments, schools and colleges.”

The Key Programme is one of a range of enterprise skills programmes delivered in schools by Young Enterprise Northern Ireland, which is funded by Invest Northern Ireland.