Equipping the next generation for business

James King, of venture capital firm Find Invest Grow, discusses why a more direct relationship between commerce and education is needed to help boost new business.

As a nation we invest a considerable sum nurturing young minds through school, college and university. If we are to secure a better return on that investment through wealth creation and economic growth we need closer, direct relationships between commerce and education.

Only a small percentage of school or university leavers have the skills, experience or even desire to start their own business. The education system needs to think again about what employability means.

While literacy, numeracy, even computer programming are undoubtedly valuable; in fast-changing times, the real benefit of a university education – and of employing graduates – lies not purely in career-specific skills but in the development of curious, agile minds that are capable of seeing the bigger picture, adapting to fast-changing circumstances and continuously learning and developing new approaches.

These are the absolute building blocks for a career in any business and are the skills young people need to be equipped with in today’s tough job market. A more critical and analytical approach to the external world will last a lot longer than the contents of a business studies textbook.

Consider careers beyond the milk round

In general, career advisers focus their soon-to-be-graduating clients’ attention on larger, corporate firms, disregarding the start-up sector. The reality is that job security in a well-funded start-up is on a par with job security at a bank and can offer a much quicker path to an impressive CV as employees get exposure to much more of the business than at a larger firm. Whether it’s marketing, accounts or HR it’s likely, as an employee of a start-up, you’d have some dealings with multiple departments or functions.

Working for a start-up is a credible career choice for those with the right skills and young people need to understand the range of opportunities available to them.

In fact, the start-ups of today are the blue chips of tomorrow. This is particularly evident in the USA where 40 per cent of GDP is derived from companies that didn’t exist before 1980.

A vital step in the education process is creating a real two-way dialogue between education and businesses. Businesses should tell universities what they really need and what they can offer. In return, universities need to engage with entrepreneurs – not just their own graduate start-ups but existing businesses too.

Training programmes for company directors

How many experienced company directors know what their responsibilities are? How many directors of start-ups know?

Running a company involves a great deal of legal responsibility and many directors put their businesses at risk through failure to fully understand and comply with that which is required of them in regards to VAT, company accounts, trading when insolvent, basic employment law, or companies house filing.

What I’d like to see is a short, but compulsory, training programme for potential company directors. That way, fewer start-ups will be subject to legal and financial headaches at the most vulnerable stage of their development.

Start-up founders would also greatly benefit from being educated about the sources of funding available to them, the practicalities of taking money, (whether through a bank loan or angel investment) and the value of schemes such as EIS and SEIS.

Achieving the right partnership between the education and commerce is crucial in driving investment in, and opportunities for, the businesses of the future. Through the right type of collaboration, there is the real opportunity to create a culture that will deliver a launch pad for start-ups to flourish.

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