Why every business needs to go back to school

Recently I received an invitation from Devon Education Business Partnership to participate in Bideford College‘s Enterprise Day for its Year 7 pupils. The idea is to give students:

“a chance to really focus on working in a different way. They get a taste of adult working life where the day is not broken up into timed chunks and it also allows them to develop a real understanding of the particular activity that they are focussing on.”

Not knowing what to expect, I bowled along on Wednesday 25th March and, after a welcome cup of tea in the staff room, my fellow business partners and I were ushered into the assembly of 300 (I think) where the timetable for the day was explained.

Next we were assigned to classes where we assisted groups of pupils in meeting the challenge of developing a new range of greetings cards, which included budgeting for production, calculating profit, designing, producing and advertising the cards.

There were many creative ideas flying around, as well as lots of glue and glitter. It was interesting for me, with my marketing sector experience, to see how the pupils viewed the different tasks they had to complete simultaneously: team leadership, card and balloon design, advertising and budgeting.

When you handle these in your business every day, it’s easy to forget that you had to learn these skills and disciplines just as the pupils were doing. A fair bit of prompting was needed to switch the focus from the glue and glitter to the accounting sheets on which they had to work out how many cards they would produce with their budget and how much profit they would generate.

Each group presented its card, banner and balloon designs to the rest of the class with an explanation of the reasoning behind the range and how they had spent their budget. The winning group from each of the 11 forms then went on to present to the whole year with the five business partner judges watching X-Factor style from behind a table.

It was a tough job judging as there were some very original ideas and it was a shame that a certain amount of shyness held back some of the original enthusiasm that went into each of the projects. Think about it: how confident would you be presenting to an ultra-critical audience of 300 12-year-olds?

The scream as the winning team was announced was ear-piercing and it was impossible not to share their excitement.

Children and young people are the future of business and I was deeply impressed by the creativity, energy and enthusiasm they exhibited. Innovation is a key quality for business and so it was heartening to see not only ideas but action as pupils prepared their card designs and explained their reasoning.

It’s all too easy for business to criticise schools and colleges and I found the day challenged my pre-conceptions and taught me a thing or two. The enthusiasm of the teachers, the discipline employed and the pupils’ behaviour were all a credit to the college.

My own belief is that a broad education is essential for innovation – the mind is its own creature and creates ideas from many sources – so giving pupils a flavour of business can’t be a bad thing.

Would I encourage other businesses to get involved? Yes.

Would I do it again? Yes.

I’d like to thank the staff and pupils of Bideford College for giving me such a warm welcome.

Robert Zarywacz

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