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Ten Tips to Promote Entrepreneurial Talent in your School

As part of National Careers Week, Rebecca Clarke shares her top tips to encourage entrepreneurs. She has lots of ideas for students that don’t require a mountain of extra work for teachers.

National Careers Week is upon us once again! A time when schools across the country plan special events to raise students’ awareness of the huge range of career opportunities which exist within their local area.  From careers fairs to employer encounters, work experience to mock interviews; students will find out more about a wide range of careers ranging from the armed forces to social care to precision engineering. However, one of the UK’s largest employers will usually be missing from the list of potential careers being showcased to students.
The rapid growth of self-employment has been a key feature of the UK labour market in recent years. The number of people who are self-employed has risen from 3.3 million people (12.0% of the labour force) in 2001 to 4.8 million (15.1% of the labour force) in 2017.
The trend of rising self-employment has been evident in all regions of the UK, but it is rarely discussed as a future career option for young people and as educators we are unlikely to provide students with the skills or knowledge that they require to establish, promote and manage their own businesses in the future.
The truth is most teachers followed a very traditional progression route into their chosen career;
School → College → University → Post Graduate Study → Job
and as a result, it can be quite daunting for teaching staff to give students advice and guidance about becoming an entrepreneur and establishing their own business venture. It’s also interesting to note that schools could achieve all of the Gatsby benchmarks without ever developing enterprise as part of their careers curriculum. This is such a shame when it is actually very easy to encourage entrepreneurial spirit in your classrooms!
Take a look at these top tips which should help your students develop the key skills that they will need to become the Lord Sugar for the next generation.
Enterprise is not just about fundraising:
In my experience as Careers Lead, I saw all too often how many students (and teachers) would confuse enterprise with fundraising. When asking form groups to develop their own enterprise projects I would usually be inundated with posters for cake sales and ‘Guess the Sweets in the Jar.’
Without a doubt, it is important to make money when running your own business, but it is more important to come up with an idea or service that will appeal to your market and promote it in a way that will stand out from the crowd.  For example, I was always responsible for organising the Christmas Fair at my previous school and one year I asked each house to run their own stalls as part of an Inter-House Enterprise Competition. There were, of course, a plethora of cake stalls and as a result in the final minutes of the fair there would always be a cakey bargain to be had as students slashed their prices to clear their stock. However, one cake stall stood out. Their cakes were decorated in brightly coloured icings. They offered Christmas themed flavours such as Black Forest Gateaux and Gingerbread. Customers could pay for their cake to be gift wrapped in a special box. The students had taken pre-orders and had the cakes boxed up and ready to hand out to their paying customers at the start of the fair. They offered cakes suitable for vegans and for those customers who did not fancy a cake there and then the students had made ‘Cake Jars’ containing all the dry ingredients required to bake their own cake at home. Needless to say, this stall was a huge success! They sold all their produce at full price and won the enterprise competition by a country mile – because they had offered their customers something different.
Fundraising can be an excellent way to promote enterprise if managed  correctly. When organising fundraising events in schools I would always encourage staff to let students take the lead. Let them decide on the fundraising activity. Allow them to design their own promotional materials to market their event. Encourage them to write letters or emails to local companies requesting donations. Allow them to sell the produce and encourage them to find ways that will draw in the crowds. Whether they make 50 pence or £500 shouldn’t matter – they will still learn from the experience.
Look on your doorstep:
When looking for a potential enterprise project idea I would always recommend starting close to home.  Your students may not be very knowledgeable about global issues or events, but they will usually have a very good knowledge of the issues affecting their own school or local community – particularly the streets they walk through on their daily commute to school. Ask students to identify the problems that they see if the local area and ask them to consider innovative ways in which this issue could be addressed.
Asking students to devise a project which would improve the school or their local community can be one of the easiest enterprise activities to implement and you may even find that you can put several of your student’s ideas into action which will add to the sense of achievement for those students. Local councils and the police often have a community team who may be able to support the school in making the project come to fruition, and who knows? One student’s enterprising idea could end up having a positive impact on thousands of local people!
Take a Risk:
The academic rigour of the modern school curriculum and the pressure to achieve results often makes teachers feel that they cannot ‘waste’ a lesson. Every minute of a lesson must be accounted for in providing students with the necessary input, the opportunity to consolidate this information and the chance to apply what they have learnt in an exam style question.
Whilst it is important to ensure that students have covered the course content and are ready to face any question in the exam, this approach can make students too dependent on us as teachers. It does not teach students how to carry out their own independent research, or how to learn from trial and error.
Every now and then take a bit of a risk in your classroom!
Set students a challenge and explain that they need to find their own answers. Ensure that they have access to all the materials that they need but then tell them that you are switching on your mute button for the rest of the lesson, allowing them to work things out for themselves. The wonderful thing about the enterprise events that The Inspirational Learning Group run in schools is that they give students free reign to develop an idea as far as they wish – how great would it be if once in a while they could do this in their normal lessons too?
Promote STEM skills across all subjects:
Analytical skills such as the ability to research a topic and draw conclusions from research results, technical skills such as the ability troubleshoot the source of a problem and attention to detail are all essential skills when launching a new business venture. They are also skills which are not exclusively for use in science, maths and technology lessons, they are core skills that we should be building into all curriculum areas as they are the skills that will ultimately enable our students to be successful in the workplace. Which brings me neatly to Tip 5…
Mix it up!
Running your own business or enterprise requires a very broad range of skills, so when developing enterprise in your own school setting it is really important to encourage cross-curricular collaboration, bringing several different subject areas together to develop a project or to set a challenge can be a great way of developing student’s soft skills and is more likely to engage a larger number of students.
For example, students could be set a homework project that is centred around a solution to an existing environmental problem for example, but in completing the project they would be required to use their artistic or CAD skills to design the product, their numeracy skills to calculate the costs of making their new product, their literacy skills to create a press release for their new product, their business skills to develop a marketing strategy for their new product and their technology skills to build a model or prototype for their idea.  You could also encourage students to present their ideas to their peers during form time or assemblies. Which leads me nicely on to Tip 6…
Encourage Oracy:
Communication is often rated as the number 1 desirable skill that employers are looking for in prospective employees. As a small business owner or sole trader, it is even more important to have the ability to communicate effectively with potential clients and customers. But as our world becomes increasingly digital, it appears that young people are losing the ability to communicate face to face.
Our students need to have as many opportunities as possible to develop their communication skills in a safe and supportive environment, whether it is by presenting ideas to their peers, taking part in mock interviews or speed networking events or simply just by explaining their answer out loud to their classmates. We need to teach students how to project their voices, how to put their points across clearly and how to maintain eye contact when having a conversation, skills that do not come naturally to many young people but are so important in the business world.
Connect with local businesses:
It should come as no surprise that one of the best ways to promote entrepreneurialism is to introduce your students to local entrepreneurs and small business owners! Reach out to your parent body for willing volunteers to speak to students, judge enterprise competitions, assist with mock interview panels or even to attend careers fairs to share their experiences. If you are struggling to find local entrepreneurs or business owners contact your Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) Business Network or Chamber of Commerce and Industry. High Schools can also sign up to the Enterprise Advisor network facilitated by the Careers and Enterprise Company through which they will be connected to their own business mentor from a local company.
Let your Students take the lead:
The most successful business owners are those that have a real passion for the work that they do. In the same way you will find that your students will have far more enterprising ideas if set a challenge that they have a genuine interest in. Do your research before you start any form of enterprise programme to establish the current issues, trends or areas of interest for your students and use this to your advantage. What type of project will get their creative juices flowing…?
Encourage Creativity!
Keep your enterprise activities open ended and avoid introducing too many rules, conditions or constraints when setting an enterprise challenge or activity. Allow students to take their ideas as far as they wish – the results may just surprise you!
Remember that your students live in a digital world – embrace this by actively encouraging vlogging, memes, viral posts and hashtags into your enterprise projects. You may discover hidden talents amongst your students!
It’s OK if it all goes wrong!
What do X-rays, Nitrous-Oxide, Microwaves, Penicillin and Post-it notes have in common?
That’s right – some of the very best ideas, innovations and scientific discoveries have been complete accidents or mistakes!
Promoting enterprise in schools does not necessarily mean establishing a highly profitable school-based business or producing a cohort of students who could secure a million-pound investment in the Dragons Den! It really does not matter if your student’s ideas would never work in the real world or if their business ventures are as successful as Derek Trotter on a slow day at Peckham market!
School based enterprise is about encouraging students to take a risk, try something new, put their ideas into action and develop the key skills that will make them successful in life in a safe, supportive and nurturing environment.
I guarantee that your students will come up with ideas that will surprise and impress you and, who knows…? This time next year they could be millionaires!

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The author

Rebecca is ‘Head of Programmes’ at The Inspirational Learning Group, the provider of the UK’s largest enterprise and employability competition for secondary schools. The challenge aims to equip young people with the skills needed for the world of work, further education and training and can assist schools in hitting the Gatsby Benchmarks whilst contributing cultural capital. To learn more about The National Enterprise Challenge please contact Dan Mears on 01785 550 160.

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