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Tomorrow's business community in classrooms of today

Tomorrow’s boardroom members are currently passing through the classrooms of schools and colleges across the educational spectrum. A look around some of these seats of learning suggests that the future of the Shropshire business community looks in rude health.

 

By Chris Austin

For months now, pupils and staff at Moreton Hall - and many others associated with the school - have been looking forward to March 17 with keen anticipation.

One of the most prominent politicians of modern times, Lord Hague of Richmond, former leader of the Conservative Party, has been inked in as guest speaker at Moreton Hall’s annual business lunch.

Hundreds of Shropshire and regional business leaders have booked their places to listen to Lord Hague - whose roles have also included Foreign Secretary, Leader of the House as well as a historian and biographer - give an address following the theme of ‘The Post-Brexit World’.

It won’t just be Lord Hague addressing the guests. Moreton Enterprises, the unique business venture run by the Year 12 girls, will also give their annual business presentation outlining their sales strategy for the year.

According to Melissa Evans, the school’s marketing development officer, Moreton Enterprises is acknowledged by a generation of Old Moretonians for successfully providing them with the tools to go confidently into the world of business and entrepreneurship. This is clearly a school with a keen eye for the future.

“The group was established over 30 years ago and although unrecognisable today by those pioneering girls, the aim is still the same: to challenge and inspire young women by nurturing a culture of enterprise and entrepreneurship in the heart of the school,” she explains.

“The businesses, all managed by the Lower Sixth girls, have previously achieved a turnover of £50,000. The centre includes four retail businesses - Tuck, Boost, Ryman and Essentials - as well as three service-based businesses, Barclays Bank, Marketing and Events Management, and a Finance team. Each year, a new team of girls try to beat these impressive sales figures.

“The businesses are all managed by the Lower Sixth girls and are housed in a shopping mall which was built through funding raised by students.”

It must be something about this part of Shropshire, because a school-cum-business environment every bit as authentic as Moreton Hall’s is just a stone’s throw away at a college at Gobowen.

Indeed, walk down the corridor at Derwen College, which celebrates its 90th birthday this year, and you may be mistaken for thinking that you have walked into a Premier Inn hotel. And that’s because Derwen College is being used as a new training centre for the hotel chain.

A replica reception area has been created on the campus, along with three en-suite bedrooms and a linen room, creating a real-life work setting for students to learn housekeeping skills.

They also have access to work experience placements at a range of local Premier Inn hotels. The partnership work that has been behind the development has involved a team from Derwen College, Premier Inn and Novus Property Solutions, which build and fitted out the Premier Inn rooms free of charge.

Derwen College principal Meryl Green says: “This amazing training facility will enable increased numbers of students to access industry standard training in hospitality and, ultimately, to improve their chances of gaining employment after college.

“We are very proud of the unique partnership we have developed with Premier Inn over the years, and would like to thank them and Novus for their generosity and genuine commitment to this project.” 

Not to be outdone, a neighbour of both schools, Oswestry School, has its own business ventures organisation, Osbiz.

The initiative began in September 2015 when Sixth Form business students were tasked with setting up and running their own venture. 

“Having had a successful start in 2015 the OsBiz committee pitched a bid to the Headmaster to obtain funding for a hub - a multi-functional space to launch and run various OsBiz ventures in a previously unused area of the school,” explains Vicky Evans from Oswestry School. 

“It became clear that the enterprise needed a base to work from and after much research, discussion and debate a detailed proposal was presented. The idea was approved and with students’ hard work and determination the idea turned into a reality.

“Students are required to identify a gap in the market for a good or service at the school and draw up a detailed business plan in which they must carefully consider their costings and pricing. 

“This idea is then pitched to a panel of investors with successful pitches having the chance to set up and run their business from the new ‘Hub’ facility within the school. Along with learning from their own mistakes as they progress, students select a charity to support with the proceeds of their business venture and last year raised more than £500.”

It’s not just schools who have an eye on helping forge young people into successful business people, with many companies operating apprenticeship schemes which can benefit all involved.

For instance, motor dealer Furrows is also helping to build the workforce of the future by joining forces with a school local to Oswestry.

The team at Furrows of Oswestry are working with the Marches School to give students the opportunity to take part in extended work placements at their dealership that could lead to a career in the industry.

Richard Pettener, for the dealership, says the first candidate has already signed up to the scheme – Thomas Simmonds who is aged 14.

“The aim is to support students who are considering a career in the motor industry by giving them the chance to spend a day a week with us over a period of two years, working alongside our team.

“This way they get the chance to learn about the practicalities of the industry and to take part in hands-on experience to help them prepare for their future career.

“It’s a great opportunity for the students and for our industry too, as there is a real need for apprentices and technicians so this is an arrangement that benefits both partners.”

Another case in point is Shifnal businesswoman Jamie-Leigh Bird who is helping beauty gurus of the future embark on a career.

Jamie-Leigh, from the House of Beauty, explains: “There are many advantages to having an apprentice, especially in the beauty industry.

“If people have worked in salons before they tend to do things a specific way, but if you get someone in fresh you can train them in exactly how you do things.

“It’s also progression for you while you’re training them, learning their strengths and incorporating them into the salon.

“We find our customers are really willing to act as models for the apprentices to let them learn new techniques, and at the end of their course we know they’ve been trained to our high standards.”

Educational seats in Shropshire all recognise the need to react to change in order to ensure their students are best placed to take their first step onto a career path.

Next month, for instance, a new apprenticeship levy comes into force in April, whereby employers will begin to increase the opportunities available at all levels.

This is very much on the radar of Gemma Parish, head of careers and UCAS at Shrewsbury High School, who explains that today’s careers education and guidance needs to react to the fast pace of change in the labour market.

Furthermore, she says, students need to be more aware of what skills and knowledge employers are looking for and what they can do to help themselves to stand out from the crowd.

“We want students to start thinking and preparing for the workplace earlier,” says Gemma.

“A couple of exciting joint projects with the Prep School boys in Years 7 and 8 mean that the culture of considering employability skills development and evidencing will start early.

“Students are challenged to think like entrepreneurs, become adept at problem solving and verbal reasoning skills, and able to present to their peers and an invited audience. These are all skills employers want to see.

“Work experience and internships will allow students to gain a valuable insight into the field of work they are interested in. No longer is work experience to be seen as a break from school and learning, but instead allows students to reflect on what they have seen and done and how they can learn from that.”

The standard of teaching professional is key to help set up young people for a prosperous future.

It is perhaps even more important to provide our educators with the tools they need to ensure education is managed and delivered effectively - or at least that is the view of University Centre Shrewsbury.

Shropshire’s newest university has been developed with a clear set of objectives: to support the people of the county to meet their potential; to enhance Shropshire’s economic development; and to offer a rich seam of talent and skills into which our county’s employers can tap.

And, though UCS says it will always major on providing undergraduates with an education that’s tailored to the county’s economic needs, it also delivers postgraduate courses aimed at improving the delivery of education in the county, at primary, secondary and further education level.

Education lead at UCS, Lynn Sampson, explains: “There are a number of opportunities for those working in and around Shropshire to study for postgraduate qualifications right in the centre of Shrewsbury.

“Our programmes in Educational Leadership, Educational Practice or Special Educational Needs are designed for busy individuals and recognise the experience you already have, building upon this through professional knowledge and reflective learning.”

One postgraduate student who has benefited from the specialist training offered by UCS is Chris Ogden, a teaching and learning specialist team leader and Ofsted inspector.

Chris says the impact of his Master’s Degree upon his own professional development has been significant: “I’ve gained a deeper personal understanding of the academic research that underpins leadership decisions and actions.”

UCS also offers an MA in Educational Practice, which draws upon the experience of participants to critically reflect on their own performance, and develop confidence to share good practice.

Lynn Sampson concludes: “We want to equip the young people of Shropshire for an increasingly competitive future – and we’re providing the foundation to ensure that happens.”

 

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