Last Tuesday I was invited along to take part in an event called “The Plunge.” Although it sounds rather ominous, it is in fact a wonderful event organised & facilitated by a Social Enterprise called Working Knowledge, who specialise in bridging the gap between education and the workplace.
Held at Bristol’s Skills Academy, which is a truly awesome building (see the pictures below), there were about 50 – 60 AS-Level students who were set quite a tough challenge. In one day they had to get into teams of 3 – 5 and come up with their very own Social Enterprise that addressed a social issue. They also had to figure out the finances behind the venture, what they’d need to launch, come up with a Sales & Marketing campaign and so on. Pretty much a whole business plan. That was only day one.
This is what happened on day two:
» The students had 15 minutes to get as many sales as possible from the 20 x business volunteers & their teachers. We were given fake money and the students had to give their 1 minute elevator pitch to make us part with our cash. You can imagine the scene. 60 x students trying to get sales of 20 x people with lots of fake money. Yes it was frantic, but a load of fun and it was amazing to see how passionate they were about an idea that they owned.
» After that the votes were counted and the winning team (who were given some real money to share) I think made 50 something sales. Who knows how they managed that, but it was a really great exercise and you could tell the kids enjoyed it.
» Then the kids went back into their teams and were asked to interview us. The two teams I interviewed with were brilliant. They asked some really probing questions. A team full of lads actually started asking me about setting up a business and what you need to be able to do it. They also wanted to know if I enjoyed it and wondered whether you had to be good at maths. I mentioned my “C” at GCSE (still so proud) and told them that as long as you bring in more than you spend you are doing ok.
» We were then put into a meeting situation and the teams came into the meeting explaining their business and were expected to ask us questions on a particular subject. My meting was around the product or service. It was a really interesting process as the four teams I saw all excelled in different areas. Some were great at giving the elevator pitch. Others were very good at asking questions. Rather fortuitously I had two teams that I had interviewed with so could tell that they’d already started tweaking their business plans based on feedback from earlier sessions.
» After lunch (which was killer and had been put on by the vocational course being run at the academy) we arrived at the main event. The kids were expected to use all the feedback they had received and things they’d learnt and pitch their final presentation at 5 x of the business volunteers. Daunting enough for a 17-year old, but they were also doing their pitch in front of 3 x other teams and about 5 x other teachers.
The pitches themselves were excellent. Every pitch was well delivered. Some were obviously better than others but you could see that every team had developed and grown in confidence. Every team member contributed and to be presenting at 16/17-years old in that environment I was just blown away. We even had 5 x minutes of Q & A for each team which they handled superbly.
» To round everything off the scores from the pitches were added up and then there was a prize ceremony giving the winning teams a cash prize for their efforts. I though that at this point all the kids would be slouching or mucking around as it was a long & intense day, but they were paying attention, some sitting on the edge of their seats waiting for the results. And that was it. Day over.
Now the reason I am writing this blog post is because this sort of event should be happening in all schools all over the country. It isn’t about setting up a business or creating entrepreneurs of the future (although that might be a side effect), but it is about helping school kids build their confidence, develop skills they’ll need in the workplace, and also helping them find out about skills they might not know they possess. I don’t know this for sure, but I imagine some of the kids I met and made an impression on me were not academic high-flyers. Some of them in fact might be pupils who the teachers can’t wait to see the back of, but events like “The Plunge” help teachers recognise talents that might otherwise be invisible in the classroom environment. It obviously isn’t going to significantly boost A-Level results, but if it leads to school-leavers being ready to take on the real-world then surely that is just as important as a grade on a piece of paper.
I’ve gone on a bit, but only because I am hugely passionate about this subject. Everyone has talents, but unfortunately our school system can’t cater for them all and that’s why organisations like Working Knowledge need public & private investment to be able to grow and deliver these sorts of events and others like them across UK schools.