Q: What is ‘entrepreneurship education’ and how is it being fostered in South West College?

- Yvonne South West College is the only Northern Irish member of the Gazelle Group; a recognisable cluster of entrepreneurial colleges across the UK. We are about bringing together real life experience of entrepreneurs and looking at how that can improve how we educate at further and higher level. We want to provide opportunities for students to become employer ready as well as potentially becoming entrepreneurs and starting up their own enterprises.

SWC is committed to becoming an entrepreneurial college. The idea is to learn from this pilot project and then roll it out across the rest of the curriculum areas.

- Camilla We are in danger of becoming qualifications factories – turning out students with qualifications but without the softer skills that are required to make them valuable employees.

The whole idea behind Gazelle and within our own College Development Plan is to look at new ways to deliver our education that will allow the students to become ‘T shaped’ i.e. where they have the knowledge accompanied with broader enterprise and social skills, creativity, confidence, resilience and the ability to take risks and accept failure as a valuable learning experience.

Over the past 10 years within education the focus has been on enterprise, which is how to start up a business, develop a business plan and how to run a small business. Whereas, entrepreneurship education is about developing the softer skills and identifying that an entrepreneur is a problem solver – not necessarily someone who sets up an enterprise, but someone who has those skills regardless of what career they go into.

We help students develop these skills through a flipped curriculum and project based learning.

Q: Why focus on entrepreneurship?

- Yvonne Both myself and Camilla attended the symposium for entrepreneurship educators in Babson College, Boston in May 2012. Babson are the world leaders in terms of fostering that concept of entrepreneurial thought and action.

If we can foster people to think entrepreneurially, then they won’t be afraid to take action, perhaps in starting their own business. Or, when they gain employment, they will behave ‘intra-preneurially’ (i.e.) they will find solutions to problems easily, they will work on their own initiative, they will be excellent communicators, they will be risk takers, they will employ those softer skills that employers are now looking for.

- Camilla The future is very uncertain and very unpredictable. We are potentially training students for jobs that may not yet exist. To try and give them knowledge alone is never going to adequately prepare them. They have to be flexible. They have to be able to adapt and take the initiative.

Entrepreneurship is the only way forward if we truly want to do justice to the education system and to turn out students who are ready to make a valuable contribution to the economy and to whatever organisation they might be working for.

Q: What’s involved in the ongoing entrepreneurship pilot project.

- Camilla We are piloting this project based approach in Business, Health and Social Care, Media Studies and Childcare.

Instead of our students being in the classroom with lectures been given by an individual member of staff, or a specific modular unit, we are working collaboratively across curriculum areas on more project based activities. This allows students to practically engage in particular things and produce assessment evidence in different ways. They can also take part in national competitions involving all the Gazelle Colleges.

- Eimear, 17 This year we are organising a Health and Well-being Fair which will take place in December. We are doing project work across a number of our units so we are not just sitting in the classroom listening to the teachers all day.

For our complimentary therapies unit, we will do a power point presentation and within Coping with Change we will have a game. It’s a fun and easy way to learn – there’s not as much assignments and written work to do. It is developing my confidence to speak in public and my ability to communicate the research I’ve undertaken. It is also a very good team work exercise.

We are working with students across other curriculum areas – Beauty Therapy and Catering. We have to project manage, plan and invite external stakeholders (Action Mental Health and local schools) to the event. The evidence we generate for this assessment will be one-third of our evidence for the whole year.

- Peter, 17 I was in St. Michael’s last year and it’s a very different atmosphere here with project-based learning. While in school it was more academic and structured, you learn more skills here that you wouldn’t necessarily learn in the classroom. You are learning by doing and learning by putting things into practice, rather than just going over the theory.

For example, we are actually starting a business, rather than just learning the academic side to it. We are currently planning out the stock and how to advertise it. Yours truly came up with the name ‘Winter Onesie-land’; we are selling onesies, hats and scarves.

Within two weeks of starting the course we were pitching our business ides. There are seven mini-projects to do over the year which will culminate in 50% of the criteria for the year.

This is happening in Dungannon and Omagh, and in February the teams will all pitch to a team of judges on the story of their business, their profits, turnover etc. One winning team from each campus will travel to 10 Downing Street to attend Prime Minister’s questions, so there’s an incentive to do well! 10% of the profits from all the businesses will go to charity, building on the CSR element of business too.

Q: What are local businesses telling you about how well students are equipped for the work-force?

- Camilla Our students have the opportunity to go on placement and employer feedback is that maybe there are some skills lacking – confidence, taking the initiative and communication skills.

Q: Are students becoming more entrepreneurial as job prospects become less certain?

- Yvonne What I’m seeing is that students are seeing that starting their own business is an option. But more-so, they are being challenged in a way they are not used to.

- Camilla Because of the global marketplace our students are going off across the world more than ever before and the entrepreneurship education approach is not optional anymore; it really is the way forward if we want to adequately prepare students.

- Yvonne This new initiative is very pro-active in terms of what businesses are telling us. This is a societal issue – it’s not specifically in relation to students in Fermanagh or the SWC. The focus within Northern Ireland is on small and micro business, encouraging innovation. Up until now the focus had been on people starting businesses, whereas the entrepreneurial education agenda talks about giving people the skills, knowledge and aptitude to be innovative.

You don’t expect every business to be the Apple of this world but that’s not what our economy is built on. We have a very entrepreneurial culture within Northern Ireland. This is our part in terms of encouraging that in this region.

- Camilla For many of our students, going out and getting a job is still their priority but they are all to aware of the limited prospects and the need to be better skilled and to stand out from the rest.

- Eimear I want to be a counsellor. I plan to go to university in England and hopefully some day come back to Fermanagh.

- Peter I can see myself as an Alan Sugar type in years to come! There aren’t as many jobs out there so if you can make your own all the better. This is giving us the mindset of another option as to how to find work.