From education to employment

2013 is the year for thinking and acting entrepreneurially

As we enter 2013, a year in which the whole world is looking to business to provide much-needed economic buoyancy, attention is turning to the role that further education can play in supporting an enterprise-led recovery within our local communities.

It is a fact that corporate businesses have not delivered a net increase in employment – not one extra job – in either the US or UK economies over the past 40 years. Even fast-growing China faces the challenge of equipping its population with entrepreneurial skills so they can cope in a world where their lives and employment roles are no longer defined for them.

The nature of the challenge facing education is global, and it is for an unprecedentedly volatile future that colleges must prepare our learners. Entrepreneurship is not only the key to Britain’s economic recovery, but a crucial driver of the radical reform that is required if further education is to provide the willing, able workforce to enable British businesses to compete and grow.

At New College Nottingham (ncn), a founding member of the Gazelle Colleges Group, we have been working hard to place entrepreneurship at the heart of a renewed curriculum and educational ethos over the past 18 months.

Our mission not only provides the foundation to dramatically enhance our offer to students and improve their employment outcomes, but seeks to fundamentally redefine the role of the college within our local community. As such, we aim to take our place as a coherent part of a new business ecosystem.

This means working in close partnership with local businesses, which we began liaising with in 2011 as part of our “Big Conversation” exercise. This extensive consultation allowed ncn to fully appreciate the “skills ask” of local entrepreneurs, community partners and policy-makers, and make the first steps towards redefining the college to meet these needs.

Since bringing the business community into the fold in 2011, ncn has worked in concert with Gazelle, to create a college where entrepreneurship is an indelible part of all teaching, learning and decision-making. This has the focused intention of helping improve the life chances of students and allowing the college to become the talent and innovation pipeline local businesses desperately need.

Through our learning companies, we are helping to pioneer a whole new set of opportunities for our students, providing them with intensively commercial learning environments. Learning companies challenge students to think and act entrepreneurially, acquire front-line business skills, and develop attitudes that will serve them well to become immediate assets in the workplace, or to be motivated to start their own business.

This is both a radical step-change for students – catapulting them out of a passive learning environment into one where they are directly challenged to make decisions and acquire work-ready skills – and also for ncn. It marks a significant transition as we shift from our role as a provider of qualifications to a vibrant part of the local enterprise ecosystem. This means working with employers, schools, universities and entrepreneurs to bring on the next generation of innovators. Through Gazelle Local, we have mobilised entrepreneurs from Greater Nottingham, building new business partnerships and consolidating networks that can benefit the whole community.

Last December saw the launch of Nottingham’s Creative Quarter, a core element of the Nottingham City Deal, to support the growth of new creative businesses through infrastructure investment and with access to grants and business support. The college is at the heart of this development, not only in a physical sense – as the largest land holder in the Quarter – but strategically, economically and educationally. By giving our students tailored experiences through our learning companies, we are developing the pipeline of talent that will boost Nottingham’s future economy.

This is entrepreneurial education in action, where the aspirations, requirements and structures of the education and business sectors become fully aligned. By working together, colleges and business can fundamentally help our learners to think and act entrepreneurially. Getting this mindset will allow young people to help themselves, their families and their communities to thrive in the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous times we face.

Amarjit Basi is principal and chief executive of New College Nottingham, one of the founding members of Gazelle

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