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Last Updated:  Monday, 24 February, 2003, 16:12 GMT
Finding the next young Branson
By Dan Roan
BBC Working Lunch

Students benefit from talking to business managers
Students benefit from talking to business managers
Finding the UK's next generation of entrepreneurs should not be a problem.

After all, research shows that more than a third of young people in the UK want to start their own business.

Yet despite this enthusiasm, there remains a worrying lack of knowledge of the world of business among schoolchildren.

This may go some way to explaining why businesses started by people aged 25 or younger are the most likely to fail.

The government has now recognised the scale of the problem.

Gordon Brown has stated his desire that "every young person hear about business and enterprise in school, every college student be made aware of opportunities in business, even to start a business, and every teacher be able to communicate the virtues of enterprise."

Time for change

But ministers and teachers have their work cut out to realise the Chancellor's ambitions.

Last year Howard Davies, chairman of the Financial Services Authority, was asked to review education and enterprise.

Gordon Brown wants more students to experience business
Gordon Brown wants more students to experience business

His findings revealed an absence of simple business experience among students.

This was a particular problem in schools in economically-deprived areas.

"Few students are exposed to basic concepts about finance and the economy," says Davies.

"The time is right for a step-change in enterprise activities, and the promotion of financial literacy."

Davies argues that 54m of government funding, and 30m of investment by businesses, needs to be committed if more young people are to experience enterprise activity in their school career.

Priority

Companies themselves seem to agree that an increase in business-savvy students is a priority.

Digby Jones, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, insists that schools and universities do more to ensure that students are fully prepared for the modern workplace.

"Many employers are satisfied with their graduate recruits but there is still room for improvement," he says.

"Students from all disciplines need help to improve their commercial awareness and interpersonal skills in order to succeed in a competitive job market."

Bringing business to life

The task of making the world of business interesting to students has, of course, been testing teachers for as long as there have been business studies courses.

But help is already at hand in the shape of businessdynamics, a London-based charity which, in the words of its chief executive, David Millar, "works to bring business to life for students."

The charity encourages company managers to go into schools and explain to children what their jobs involve.

"What we've been doing for years now fits into government policy," says Millar.

"So many more jobs are now based in small businesses, so it makes sense to encourage kids to be more entrepreneurial, as they're the country's future employers.

David Millar, Chief Exective, businessdynamics
There's no reason why a kid from Brixton can't start his or her own business, but the odds are stacked against them
David Millar of businessdynamics

"But there's a crucial social inclusion dimension too. There's no reason why a kid from Brixton can't start his or her own business, but the odds are stacked against them.

"When I was a teacher in Glasgow I remember poorer kids seeing BA as much too glamorous to be a possible employer.

"It's these misconceptions that can be broken down by companies' actually going into schools and explaining what they do.

"Business simply isn't on the Richter scale as far as most kids are concerned. They see it as boring and dull.

"The problem is that business is usually only taught as part of a business studies course; schools aren't the only place it needs to take place, and teachers aren't always equipped to do this."

Role models

Businessdynamics also runs a Blue Skies programme in which young entrepreneurs go into schools to talk to students about their experiences.

"These are fantastic events," says Millar.

"All the schools from east London recently came to one session to listen and talk to three young people who had all started their own firms.

"The pupils are inspired by it, and the importance of having a successful young role model that they can relate to is very powerful."

Now in its 25th year, businessdynamics welcomes the recent support of the government, and is doubling the size of its operation, with 75,000 students involved in its projects this year.

International conferences designed to bring students and business together are also planned, with a recent event in Paris attracting 2,800 UK students.

Behind the scenes

Sally Holmes is a business studies teacher at Eltham Hill Technology College in east London.

Businessdynamics has arranged for students from the school to visit computer firm IBM's offices, and see at first hand how a global business operates.

"The students found it a wonderful experience," says Holmes.

"IBM laid on a conference call for the students, and asked them to come up with a business plan; it made them feel differently about business studies.

We have very deprived children here. It's a poor area and a large number of our girls for instance, only think about becoming a hairdresser or a secretary
Sally Holmes, Eltham Hill Technology College

"It also made us as teachers realise we need to think differently about how we teach this subject.

"These projects give the kids confidence. We have trouble getting them to stand up in class and present ideas, but visits like this can improve their communication skills.

"We have a problem here in opening students' eyes to life outside Eltham. They don't look at the wider opportunities.

"We have very deprived children here. It's a poor area and a large number of our girls, for instance, only think about becoming a hairdresser or a secretary.

"We need to let them know just how many options there are out there, and introducing them to businesses is the best way of doing that."

Everyone's a winner

The benefits of such projects to the students taking part are obvious, but it also makes sense for the businesses involved.

Sue Mercer of Sainsbury's, with students at a businessdynamics event
Sue Mercer with students at a businessdynamics event

Sue Mercer is community affairs manager at supermarket group Sainsbury's, and has worked with businessdynamics for the last four years.

"We've sent volunteers from our head office into schools to explain to kids that what we do is not simply about shelf-stacking and checkouts," she says.

"It's a great way of demystifying business and helping students realise that there is a raft of opportunities in every kind of field.

"It's a two-way thing because our staff come back just as enthused as the students.

"We also organise sessions where the kids come to us; we host a large group of 16 year-olds, the vast majority of whom will never have considered a career in a supermarket group.

They think they're coming in for a boring day but they're always pleasantly surprised
Sue Mercer, Sainsbury's

"They think they're coming in for a boring day but they're always pleasantly surprised."

Match-maker

She added: "businessdynamics is a conduit, in effect. It brings schools and business together and it's brilliant because we need these youngsters. They're our future."

The task of making business exciting is a difficult task.

But it is also a crucial one.

Not only does it increase students' chances of finding a job.

It may just help produce the next Richard Branson, Anita Roddick or James Dyson.





LINKS TO MORE EDUCATION STORIES


 

SEE ALSO:
Pupils to get lessons in business
14 Feb 02 |  Education


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