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Back to school: UK teenagers may be getting ever-higher grades, but do they know business? Stephen Hoare considers how employers can teach them entrepreneurship.

Enterprise is flavour of the year. More than five million people tuned in to watch the UK version of The Apprentice, in which Sir Alan Sugar, chief executive of Amstrad, put a band of would-be executives through their paces in a contest to win a 100,000 [pounds sterling]-a-year job as his understudy. When the TV show became a surprise hit for BBC2, Channel Five promptly cashed in with Rebel Billionaire, a white-knuckle knock-out contest presided over by Virgin's boss, Sir Richard Branson.

But the sudden popularity of entrepreneurship is no surprise to many schools and business-link organisations. Over the past few years commercial sponsors have launched a plethora of enterprise competitions for schools. Last year, for example, Business Dynamics' Blue Skies Roadshow involved more than 10,000 pupils. The Prince's Trust has funded enterprise coaching in schools and colleges, while schemes such as HSBC's Young Enterprise, Shell's Livewire and the Learning and Skills Council's Lionheart Challenge have supported business and economics teaching in schools. CIMA has weighed in, too, with its annual management competition (see panel, page 21).

This focus on business has helped the UK to become the most entrepreneurially minded nation in Europe. An international survey conducted in January 2004 by London Business School and the Work Foundation found that 6.4 per cent of young people in the UK aspired to run their own business, compared with 5.2 per cent in Germany and only 1.4 per cent in France. (The US was well ahead of the pack, with 11.9 per cent.) What's more, young people in the UK seem to be becoming more excited about entrepreneurship, despite the dot-com crash something that the chancellor, Gordon Brown, clearly realised 18 months ago when he appointed 100 enterprise advisers to work in schools.

Enterprise challenge schemes for schoolchildren are part of a determined effort to portray entrepreneurship as an exciting career option, but the key to success is, of course, staying in business. A third of businesses rail within the first year in the UK and, according to a NatWest survey, eight out of ten start-ups are no longer trading after six years.

Schools have taken some of the blame for this. Numeracy is, apparently, languishing, as they find it harder to recruit maths graduates to teach the subject. Financial literacy is barely taught at all, because too few teachers have a working knowledge of finance or economics. These issues were highlighted in the hard-hitting Review of Enterprise in the Economy and Education, written by Sir Howard Davies, former chairman of the Financial Services Authority, in 2002.

"One of the main reasons why there are continuing problems with our financial sector is that the public as a whole is not equipped to understand the basis of financial products," says Davies, who is now director of the London School of Economics. "There are some frightening statistics--more than 30 per cent of people don't know what a percentage is, for example. My conclusion when I was at the FSA was that we needed to tackle this at its root: in schools. Young adults at 18 need to know about personal finance. We tried to get financial literacy on to the national curriculum, but the government decided not to go down that route."

Alan Smithers, director of the University of Buckingham's Centre for Education and Employment Research, is concerned that the UK is falling behind other European countries in this area. "International comparisons show that the UK is pretty poor when it comes to understanding maths," he says, pointing to Trends in Maths and Science, a research report that puts the UK near the bottom of the league. "The government has had a numeracy strategy for children aged five to 11 since 1998, but it has made little impact. The real problem started because teachers back in the sixties and seventies thought that pocket calculators would replace the need for basic arithmetic and computational skills."

So what can CIMA members do to improve the situation? Alistair Taylor FCMA, head of an in-house bid team in the Ministry of Defence logistics organisation, contributes to a huge purchasing and supply-chain operation, but is also a governor at his local secondary school in Andover, Hampshire. He helps the school with its budgeting and business planning and also teaches basic accountancy to year-nine pupils as part of a technical project to create a product that will make a profit at the school fair. He believes that other CIMA members should get involved with their local schools.

"Part of our professions plan for the future involves attracting the best people to become business leaders. That means getting them interested at an early age." Taylor argues. The MoD at Andover also promotes accountancy and supply-chain management among other skills to schoolchildren. Working through the national work placement charity Trident. it offers work experience to about 25 year-nine pupils every year. The 14-year-olds, who are studying for their GCSEs, are given meaningful tasks that give them a better picture of accountancy.

"We meet people from Trident once a year and they carry out a risk assessment." says Jan Surtees. who organises the MoD work placements. "CIMA members get pupils to produce spreadsheets and each student is given a project to complete."

Taylor adds that, by keeping an open mind and listening to pupils, accountants can gain new insights. "'Having young people in the office asking questions makes you think about what you're doing. Once of twice I've thought: "You're right. By inviting work-experience students into your organisation you get a lot more out than you put in," he says.

This is not the only way in which employers can get involved in education. Many are now looking at the possibilities of sponsorship. Philip Green, owner of the Arcadia Group. which owns brands including Burton. Miss Selfridge, Top Shop and Evans, has offered 25,000 [pounds sterling] of sponsorship to each of 50 secondary schools to help them become specialist business and enterprise colleges. The Department for Education and Skills matched this money. Green has volunteered managers from the group's head office and high-street stores to become "link partners", helping the schools to deliver enterprise education. Some also become governors.

Katrina Nurse FCMA, finance director at Evans, is a link partner at Caroline Chisholm School, Northampton. "We want a more meaningful role in schools than simply supplying free T-shirts for the sports team." she explains. "For example, I recently arranged for a group of teachers and pupils to run a fashion auction at our headquarters in the West End of London. The participants raised more than 2,000 [pounds sterling] for their school and gained first-hand experience of running what was, in effect, a small shop for hall a day."

Nurse also asked CIMA colleagues to design and teach a practical course at the school to explain how maths is applied in the workplace.

"The exercises concentrated on managing stock levels and measuring performance," she says.

Arcadia plans to use the newsletter that it sends its sponsored schools to publicise the CIMA management competition. "I really want to support the 11-16 age group and encourage young people to develop entrepreneurial talent." Green explains. "Because the retail industry is the largest private-sector employer in the UK. it makes sense to develop future employees."

Nurse agrees. "Pupils know our brand because they shop in our stores. We listen to what they have to tell us. Every one of them has got an opinion, because retail is a business that they understand:" she says.

The Lionheart Challenge is another initiative that encourages management accountants to go into schools and show pupils how it's done. The scheme's founder, Clare McDonald ACMA. is managing director of event management company Field Lockhart Associates. She explains the rationale behind the challenge: "When the Learning and Skills Council approached me to run Lionheart, the brief was to promote enterprise awareness and capability in young people. Howard Davies's review of enterprise in the economy and education had just been published and the council was on a mission to explain finance and business to schoolchildren."

The topic of enterprise has finally found its way on to the national curriculum, so every secondary school in England has had to include enterprise activities for years 11 and 12-ie, GCSE and lower-sixth students from the start of this school year. This is a great opportunity for business to get involved, according to McDonald. "Accountants have been taking part as team facilitators and as judges," she says. "Pupils appreciate that what these business people are doing is high quality. It's for real and they respond accordingly."

Further information

* Trident Trust.www.thetridenttrust.org.uk

* Business in the Community.www.bitc.org.uk

* Business Dynamics.www.businessdynamics.org

ENTREPRENEURSHIP CONTEST SEPARATES MIDDLEMEN FROM BOYS

Jocelyn wills, head of business studies at Palmer's College in Grays, Essex, was only too pleased to enter her class for the 2005 CIMA management competition. Her students divided into teams, each of which chose marketing, finance and HR directors. They were asked to respond to a case study: how Panther Sportswear's high-tech heart-monitoring trainers could be designed, manufactured and marketed.

The participants downloaded CIMA case-study material that had been published online in partnership with wwwlearn.co.uk, the Guardian's internet education arm. Wills was impressed by what she saw. "CIMA is extremely good at producing business simulations," she says. "The competition motivates students and the work on business plans ties in with the A-level syllabus and can improve grades."

This year's competition, the ninth, was won by Plymouth College's Ben Robinson, Ralph Robinson and Liam Jonas (see First in ..., September). The judges commended their professionalism, flair and conviction. These are qualities that employers are naturally keen to identify--traits that aren't indicated by exam results. The competition also helps students to develop soft skills such as teamwork, communication and leadership.

St George's College, Weybridge, won last year's competition for the year-13 category. "Our students developed confidence in working as a team. They were talking more to each other," says Fiona MacAlpine, the college's head of business studies and economics. "Taking part in a business challenge was a change from slogging their guts out in the exam hall."

Between half and 60 per cent of St George's College's students apply to take business studies as a degree, but few opt to study accountancy. "After our involvement in the CIMA competition, more students showed an interest in accounting," MacAlpine says.

Last year more than 200 teams in 80 schools participated in the competition, which is underpinned by the institute's framework for business volunteers in schools. Members in blue-chip firms such as BT. Procter and Gamble, Sainsbury's and BA now go into local schools to help teach business studies and support pupils entering the challenge.

Clare Ighodaro, CIMA's immediate past president, helped to get the scheme up and running. "It's important to reach out to 14- to 19-year-olds," she explains. "They are our future. The competition exposes young people to a career they may not have considered."

Ighodaro realised that the best way to popularise management accountancy was to help young people see the bigger picture. The competition allows pupils to explore how management, accounting and enterprise fit together. One of its main aims is to challenge the view that accountancy is all about maths, she says. "We're looking for young people who are analytical, who will pull together threads and think outside the box."

Stephen Hoare is a freelance business and education writer.
COPYRIGHT 2005 Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA)
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Author:Hoare, Stephen
Publication:Financial Management (UK)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Oct 1, 2005
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