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Ruth Rowe - Entrepreneurship in further education

If ‘the entrepreneur upsets and disorganizes’ (Drucker), what is the role of the entrepreneurship educator in Further Education?’

Ruth roweIn ‘Innovation and Entrepreneurship: Practice and Principles’ Peter Drucker concludes that ‘the entrepreneur upsets and disorganizes.’ If this is true then shouldn’t the role of the entrepreneurship educator in Further Education (FE) be to facilitate and encourage disruption and disorder? Indeed, as a positive role model shouldn’t their work actively seek to upset the status quo? If so, how does that fit with the Welsh Government’s definition of entrepreneurship education and how would all principals and stakeholders feel about this enterprising wreaking of havoc?

According to the Youth Entrepreneurship Strategy (YES- 2004):
‘Entrepreneurship education is about developing young people’s attitudes and skills to help them realise their own potential. It is also about having the drive to turn ideas and opportunities into reality, enabling young people to be positive, proactive and successful
in their approach to life and work.’

Surely nobody could argue with this empowering ideal that gets me out of bed every morning and even Drucker would have approved of the YES Strategy’s aim ‘to develop and nurture self-sufficient, entrepreneurial young people in all communities across Wales, who will contribute positively to economic and social success’? Wouldn’t he?

If so, the question that interests me -apart from, ‘Am I ever going to answer any of my own questions?’- is, ‘does upset and disorganisation need to be given full rein in order to fulfil the noble aim above? ‘Well, yes, I am going to get round to some answers soon, and a qualified yes would be my considered opinion.

Developing the skills and attitudes of young people in order to prepare them for a fulfilling life and career is the raison d’être of FE. Bridgend College’s mission statement ‘Be all that you can be’ clearly shows that it is at the very heart of everything the College does and I don’t recall any of my colleagues suggesting that creating a climate of disruption and disorder is necessary for learners to thrive. What my colleagues do brilliantly when teaching vocational skills is ensure that they are at the vanguard of their specific subject areas, embracing and becoming fully conversant with new ideas and burgeoning technologies that have themselves resulted from Drucker’s ‘disorder’ or Shumpeter’s ‘creative destruction.’

All learners need to understand what entrepreneurship is and why it is vital for strong and sustainable economic growth and this level of understanding can be embedded very successfully in the vast majority of vocational subject areas. In order to really nurture nascent entrepreneurial talent in the rule breakers and risk takers, the entrepreneurs of the future, however, I think entrepreneurship educators must go a step further. Embracing change and ensuring innovation is discussed and analysed in the classroom is great but it’s not quite enough if we want our learners to create change for themselves, their communities and the wider world. In order to do that young people with a real interest in running their own business one day must be given the opportunity to find out how enterprising and entrepreneurial they can be in as authentic a way as possible.

Reading about making an omelette or watching a video of a famous chef doing it on YouTube is not the same as breaking the eggs oneself. Failing to get it out of the frying pan in one piece will teach you a great deal more about what not to do next time than just reading the recipe again or listening to someone explain the science of egg cookery. By the same token, entrepreneurship education can’t just be concerned with the entrepreneurial journeys of others, as valuable as that can be, it must involve an element of experiential learning to be really powerful and potentially life-changing.

Nothing will tell you more about the quality and saleability of a product or service than actually attempting to sell it. Potential purchasers will be only too happy to point out if it is too big, too small, too cheap, too expensive, not cool enough or just not right for them. They will also tell you if it’s great but it’s only when they actually part with their hard earned cash to buy something that you know you might, just might, be onto a winner.

Providing opportunities for learners to create and sell products or showcase their art work or other potentially commercial skills is vital, in my opinion, as only by doing something ‘for real’ can they truly understand what it feels like to be an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs risk a great deal more than money every time they bring an innovation to market, they risk damaging their relationships and reputations, having their hopes and dreams shattered, even ridicule. (Remember the Sinclair C5?) Agreeing that self- belief and tenacity are vital for any entrepreneur is not the same as having to discover it for yourself, albeit on a potentially small scale or in a supportive environment to start with.

So, where does that leave us in terms of the role of the entrepreneurship educator? Before I drew any definitive conclusions I thought it would be a good idea to ask some former Bridgend College learners who are now running their own businesses what they thought an excellent entrepreneurship educator should do or be.

One concluded that an effective entrepreneurship educator should be ‘positive, creative and passionate and know how to bring out the best in people.’ Another succinctly stated that they should ‘guide aspiring entrepreneurs in the right direction with patience, kindness and honesty.’

The third was equally forthright and articulate saying that, in his opinion, ‘a good entrepreneurship educator needs to be able equip learners with the skills and motivation they need to drive innovation.’ He also thought that most important part of the role is ‘to ask the hard and sometimes awkward questions without which you (an aspiring entrepreneur) could lose sight of the wider picture.’
You may have noticed that none of these interesting view- points even alludes to the importance of experiential learning or ‘test trading,’ so does that mean that it is completely irrelevant after all? As I know the three young people very well, and have been there when they have said a resounding ‘yes please’ to every opportunity that has been offered to them, I am sure that that is not the case. In fact, I think that all three of them saw experiential learning as such an integral part of their entrepreneurial education that it was taken as read that it is vital. Consequently what they have as highlighted as being the role of the entrepreneurship educator is predominantly based on the skills and behaviours required to support learners when they are ‘test trading.’ The fact that that person will also provide and promote relevant opportunities was simply too obvious to mention.
What is the role of the entrepreneurship educator in FE then? In my opinion it is to inspire and facilitate as much disorder and disruption as possible through positivity, creativity, patience, kindness and passion in order to drive innovation.

Sounds easy when you put it like that, doesn’t it?

Ruth Rowe B.A. (Hons), M.A., F.I.E.E.P.


Before becoming Entrepreneurship Officer at Bridgend College in September 2010, Ruth Rowe was an award winning, SFEDI accredited business adviser for seven years following a variety of management and project management roles in the charity and retail sectors. Passionate about CPD she became a fellow of the International Entrepreneurship Educators Programme (IEEP) in 2012 and completed her MA in Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Education the following year. Ruth won the National Enterprise Educators’ FE Champion Award in 2014 for her work at Bridgend College and again in 2015 as part of the team that created the ‘Trading Places’ project.
When she is not engaging learners with entrepreneurship Ruth loves reading, cooking, decorating and shopping. She is also a trustee of the Fairwood Trust, a governor of Bridgend College and has been a regular newspaper reviewer for Good Morning Wales since 2010.