With all the noise over Brexit, a story last week which saddened me greatly was overlooked. The government’s social mobility commissioner quit, citing a lack of faith in the current government to positively impact social mobility. More Info Here
One of the ways to stop the cycle of ‘born poor, stay poor’ is to help talent get on. One of the main reasons I started the Academy of Sales was to help young people into work, particularly from poorer backgrounds. It was born out of a frustration at the lack of support for young people to make the transition from education to the work place.
Back in 2012, I attended a 1-day workshop with a group of year 10 students hosted by an Education Business Partnership. It was a really good introductory day to help the students start to get their head around what running a business means. Myself and a fellow volunteer worked with 9 students who, in the main, engaged in and enjoyed the day. Of the 9, 2 really stood out as ‘getting’ the concept of business and the business world straight away.
In the same way that some young people are naturally gifted at education, sport, art, music, some children are going to be ‘natural’ business people, but unlike those other areas, there doesn’t seem to be anywhere for them to go … If there is, please get in touch!
Lack of a systemic plan
Whilst there are pockets of often exceptional-quality projects for young people to get involved in – YEUK, Education Business Partnerships, there is no systemic way to engage and track young business talent during those crucial formative years. For example, neither the EBP nor I had any way to track whether my two bright stars ever made it into the business world, nor was there a further programme where they could go.
Learning from sport
There is a direct comparison with the world of sport. The British Sport Performance Pathway identifies talent at all levels and works with individual sports to ensure we get as much of this talent to the podium as possible. There is nothing like this at a systemic level in business. Admittedly, it is still flawed. There is an over-representation within our medal haul of privately educated athletes. However, it undoubtedly helps young people with talent make their way regardless of background.
… And apprenticeships? From my experience, most apprentices are 24+ and already in a role. We are not creating a sufficient number of roles at the 18-24 level for whom apprenticeships can be seen to be a viable answer. Even then, it might be too late. The nascent business talent needs to be nurtured and trained in the same way we nurture and train sporting and musical talent.
So, what could change? Well, for a start, we could get a lot better at ‘talent-spotting’. There are plenty of business people who are happy to volunteer and help young people at the start of the process. If during the workshops, competitions and events talent is posted (and most business people worth their salt will know how to do this) then, in the same way that a 15-year old running 100 metres in 11 seconds is tracked – we track them.
The next stage is development. Putting together a really meaningful qualification for 16+ alongside experience of work with committed employers and a pathway beyond it – whether it be an apprenticeship or sponsorship from an employer through university and then a graduate training programme beyond this. What we need is a consistent way of tracking and developing talent all the way from year 9/10 through university and out into work. We need to coach and mentor these young people and give them opportunities in a similar way we already do in the world of sport.
Can it work?
Admittedly a lot of this relies on the volunteer spirit of my generation to get this off the ground. From my experience, that is not an issue. To start with, we are talking about a relatively small number, say the top 250 around the country that then go on to spend time working with some of our most forward-thinking employers. I’m sure some of the Behemoths such as BP, Vodafone and Glaxo could find projects and accommodate 10-20 young people. Existing entrepreneurs could work with those who show a particular flair in this area too.
If we are going to compete in a global economy, we need to tap into that rich vein of young talent and give them the best-possible training, coaching and mentoring to create our business leaders of the future. Copying and augmenting systems that seem to work and already exist in other areas seems like a great place to start.