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Monday, 12 September 2011

TEACHING 'I CAN' TO YOUNG UK ENTREPRENEURS

The GuardianBusinesses of every size, including my own, have been forced to confront a new economic reality over the last twelve months. And one of the biggest challenges this has posed has been the ability to find and recruit employees with the right skills – the skills to drive business growth and expansion, the skills to spot opportunities, the skills to manage and exploit risk, in short, the skills to be truly innovative and entrepreneurial.

All too often, graduates and school leavers entering the labour market do not possess that entrepreneurial skill-set desired, and indeed required, by many employers. While it’s true that traditional business studies courses equip students with a wealth of valuable theoretical business knowledge, there is was no single academic course wholly dedicated to enterprise and entrepreneurship – a fact that inspired me to set about establishing the National Enterprise Academy (NEA), the UK’s first ever academic institution solely dedicated to teaching enterprise and entrepreneurship

My own experience of business, and the travails I’ve faced along the way, have only served to reinforce my belief that we need to foster amongst our young people an ‘I can’ rather than a ‘Can I?’ attitude. That is not to say that we do not already possess a great deal of young talent in Britain – far from it. However up until now, we have simply not done enough to unlock that latent entrepreneurial potential. My team and I looked at the existing enterprise education provision, I was shocked that there was nowhere in the UK was there a qualification that did exactly what it said on the tin – teach enterprise and entrepreneurship. And so I decided to do something about it. During 2009, in partnership with Edexcel, the UK's largest qualifications awarding body, the NEA developed two completely unique qualifications in enterprise and entrepreneurship. The first qualification is our level 2 BTEC Diploma in Understanding Enterprise and Entrepreneurship. The second is our level 3 BTEC Diploma in Enterprise and Entrepreneurship. Both qualifications are available now to 16-19 year olds who wish to enrol in September courses at one of the NEA’s leading-edge enterprise centres in Buckinghamshire and Manchester.

While there are existing business courses, the style and delivery of the education at the NEA is quite unique. The NEA features a high level of input from a wide range of real-life entrepreneurs and business people who will support experienced teachers in the delivery of the curriculum by acting as coaches and mentors to the students. on the whole the new qualifications are very different; they capture the true essence of entrepreneurship. At level 2, students hone their skills on live business challenges as well as developing an investment-ready business plan for their own, individual business idea. Then at t level 3, students take this a step further, developing their learning through setting up and running their own micro business.

This is important because I truly believe that entrepreneurs are not born, they are made. And what’s more, I can prove it! In January 2008, we recruited 28 students to join the NEA Pathfinder pilot programme – an intensive six-month programme designed to develop, shape and test this qualification. After months of innovation, inspiration and all-round entrepreneurial excellence, the results of the pilot programme are truly outstanding. Several of the students who graduated from the programme have already established their own businesses, whilst almost half of the students who graduated have opted to stay on at the NEA to further hone their entrepreneurial talents. I’ve even offered five of the graduating students positions across my own portfolio of businesses – the proof of the pudding, as they say, is in the eating.

Despite the unequivocal success of the pilot programme, and despite the backing of Government and major employers in the private sector, during the development of the NEA my team and I have continued to face a degree of scepticism. In fact, the question I get asked the most, apart from the old favourite, can you really teach entrepreneurship? is, why did you open the National Enterprise Academy in the middle of a recession? While there’s no silver bullet or simple answer to solving the issue of rising youth unemployment, what I can say is that new and innovative educational programmes, like the NEA, have a key role to play. Arguably there is no better time to create a National Enterprise Academy than during a recession. The UK needs entrepreneurs to stimulate the economy and businesses need inspired employees to help their companies recover quickly. With the continued support of Government and the private sector, The National Enterprise Academy will create both.

For more information about the National Enterprise Academy please visit www.thenea.org

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