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Building future business leaders: a school’s perspective

Ahead of the National Enterprise Challenge grand finals, secondary school pupils across the UK are building key entrepreneurship and employability skills necessary for the 21st century.

Last updated: 14 Jul 2021 5 min read

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Finalists at the 2018 National Entreprise Challenge.

Education has been dramatically impacted by the pandemic and lockdowns over the last 18 months and schools across the country have been striving to adapt to virtual learning and engage students in interesting ways. One such initiative is the National Enterprise Challenge (NEC), which hosts its finals on 15 July.

NatWest has teamed up with The Inspirational Learning Group – which runs programmes focused on inspiring and motivating young people – by setting this year’s NEC Key Stage 4 challenge. From November 2020, student teams were tasked with creating innovative social enterprise solutions to issues affecting their communities and pitching their proposals to the judges. 

Julie Baker, Head of Enterprise for NatWest, says: “We’re passionate supporters of enterprise and committed to providing opportunities for people of all ages in the UK.

“Through our existing initiatives such as MoneySense and Dream Bigger, and the recently launched CareerSense, aimed at improving employability prospects for young people in the UK aged 13 – 24, through partnering on programmes such as the NEC, we’re supporting young people as they prepare to take their first or next steps into entrepreneurship.

“Whether it’s skills development and further education or motivation, confidence and resilience, we’re proud to be unlocking potential and making a difference. We wish all the teams taking part in the finals this July the very best of luck.”

Liam McDonnell, Acting Careers Leader at Oaks Park High School in Ilford, explains the impact the NEC has had on his pupils.

“It’s the first time Oaks Park is participating in the challenge. We decided to enter after applying for the Careers Booster Fund through the London Mayor’s Office. We were looking at our programme and realised that, potentially, our Year 9s didn’t have as much built in, in terms of employer engagement. We used this to ensure the students were able to engage with employers and companies and learn more about entrepreneurial skills.”

“Giving students the ability to understand their aspirations and their goals enables them to see the purpose of their learning within school. That means better behaviour for learning and better outcomes for our students”Liam McDonnell, Acting Careers Leader, Oaks Park High School

Developing 21st-century skills

Liam has witnessed his students growing in confidence and stature as a result of taking part. “It got them working with students they wouldn’t normally be working with and took them out of their comfort zones,” he explains.

The challenge offered the students fresh insights into business, including the process of designing products in a real-life scenario, and allowed them to gain key skills in business and marketing in ways they wouldn’t have been able to in the classroom. “It enabled them to interact with people from outside the school environment and get a bit more of a feel for what businesses are like,” says Liam.

The challenge offered students what Liam calls “labour market information”. By taking on a project management role or organising an advert, students began to see what roles exist within organisations and how they might develop skills and envision pathways towards them.

The positives have also trickled back into the school setting. “Careers and behaviour are really closely linked,” says Liam, who also has pastoral care responsibilities at Oaks Park. “Giving students the ability to understand their aspirations and their goals enables them to see the purpose of their learning within school. It enables them to see where they’re going and how their learning connects with that. That means better behaviour for learning and better outcomes for our students.”

The key skills of adaptability, communication and teamwork are as important as ever, he adds. “If you look back 50 years, someone had a job and they’d stay with their job pretty much for life. We’re talking about careers for our young people now. The average person today has three or four careers in their lifetime,” he says. “With rapid-changing technology and the fourth industrial revolution (and potentially, when our kids are older, the fifth industrial revolution) having the skills to build the next technologies is going to be key.”

Levelling the playing field

Addressing equity in education, Liam points to the inclusive nature of the challenge. “It’s fully inclusive in the sense that all students take part in it. You get a chance to participate in a challenge in the same way as everyone else,” he says. “When we think about this from a cultural capital perspective, where potentially some students may not have the opportunity to take part in things like this, I think it’s really key that, as a school, we offer this to our students to ensure that the most vulnerable, the most disadvantaged, are able to prosper and get the same opportunities in the future.”

Impacting communities

Liam listened to lots of ideas, from a live crime app to a homelessness support van, all of which supported British values, mutual respect, and spiritual, moral, social and cultural (SMSC) development. He says it gives him great hope for the future. 

The team that will be advancing to the finals later this month looked at the carbon cycle and creating recyclable bikes.

As our world evolves, it’s more important than ever to look toward the future generation to innovate, says Liam. “It’s always great to hear the ideas that young people have, and how putting them in the right environment enables them to become the adults of the future. It enables them to develop those ideas that are going to put them in good stead for the future careers they will be undertaking.”

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