Young Enterprise

No I am not going to talk about the elections – I am going to simply watch what comes out of this mess and look forward to the next elections which are bound to come soon. I might just add that I hope we have a form of proportional representation by then, but then I remind you that I am foreign you know.

No I am going to blog about something called Young Enterprise. Last week I was invited to attend the finals of the Young Enterprise in Hastings. The teams, made up of 14 to 16 year olds, had been asked to set up their own companies, issue shares, develop a product or a service, develop and market it and present it to a jury and an audience of about 100 people. The company with the best product, presentation and of course the one which returned the most to shareholders wins. The winner goes to regional finals and then national finals.

It was fantastic. The teams had done amazing work with little in resources, experience or time and some were able to return profits to shareholders well in excess of 100%. For me it was also an opportunity to see how much there is to learn in setting up your own business, something I hope to give back by helping future teams develop these skills.

Two things really struck me:

The first was presentation skills. Some kids had natural abilities and you could see them going on to strong careers. Others, like most of us, needed training and practice – lots of it. When I went to university well into the last century in the US I was struck how well my peers over there could present and how pathetic my skills were. They were all trained in school to do it and it came almost naturally. We need to teach this to our kids if we want to give them half a chance of succeeding in life.

With presentation skills I do not just mean getting up in front of an audience. Simple skills like looking people in the eye, introducing yourself, shaking hands in a confident manner are essential to finding jobs. Knowing what you are there for, focusing on your key message and getting it across especially when these kids are applying for jobs are skills which can and need to be developed.

The second thing was that every single team consisted of a number of Directors. They had MDs, FDs, HR Directors, IT Directors, Marketing Directors, etc, etc, depending a bit on how many people they had. Well there lies a problem. Every company needs more ‘doers’ than directors. The message the kids were getting was that a company consists of directors and the ‘doers’ are not important. Wrong!

We have all complained at some point in our lives that an organisation had too many generals and no soldiers, yet that is what we are teaching our children. If we look at our local authorities, NHS, and central government it is the core of our problem. Lots of generals have been put at place with stars, stripes and privileges and the cost cutting has been with the soldiers – those people who actually do. The result is top heavy organisations with people looking at justifying their existence rather than getting things done.

I was very impressed with what Young Enterprise produced and what the kids did and I learned another very valuable lesson – value the ‘doers’.

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