Working at DYW North East gives me plenty of opportunities to support young people of all ages, so I was really pleased when an invite to Ellon Academy’s “Business Challenge” themed S5 induction day event arrived in my inbox from Niall Corsar (Ellon Academy DYW Lead and headmaster of the school). The day would be hosted by the University of Aberdeen.
The aim of the day was for the entire S5 year group (150 students, to work in teams and take an idea for a product or service that will benefit the school or local community from concept to finished business plan in the space of approximately 5 hours. They would then present their idea to an audience of their peers, teachers and business advisors with each house group having a winner.
A “Dragons Den” style competition would then be held back in school and the winning pitch would win a sum of money for their chosen charity.
I had personally been asked to be one of the business advisors for the day and (I won’t lie) I was more than a little nervous. As it turned out though, I shouldn’t have worried as there was plenty of support on the day and a diverse spectrum of local business owners and industry sectors were represented.
Once we were shown to our rooms and allocated our groups, the day got under way. It was all very quiet to start off with as the pupils processed the task ahead of them, but that soon changed as we observed different group members start to brainstorm ideas and make their contributions.
It was fascinating to see the dynamics of each project group evolve as each member adopted their specific roles – some through democratic allocation and others through sheer strength of personality!
Firstly, there was the “Project Managers”, who were the most vocal, taking charge of the business plan and the allocation of tasks. Then ‘The Creatives’, who took responsibility for the marketing materials, advertising and posters and then, most importantly, ‘The do’ers. Those who were happy to contribute and be part of the team and action some of the big ideas of the Project Manager and creatives.
It was really interesting to see the different characteristics coming out as they got deeper into the task and really inspiring to see the next generation of talent improving some of their core skills such as communication, team building and leadership and coming together to discuss some amazing ideas and producing excellent business plans. Many of the teachers also commented that several of the pupils that were not necessarily at the top of their class academically, were absolutely thriving in this new business environment and demonstrating skills and ideas that they were completely unaware of!
There were many varied and creative business ideas on the day, which included: -
An App for managing the school timetable that also allowed teachers to email homework assignments and a graph that was accessible to parents which told them how much of the homework was complete. It was to be sponsored by sports companies and gaming companies looking to sell their brands to the students and this made the App free to use for all students across the land.
An electronic pen that held a student’s unique registration details which sped up the registration process each morning at school and it also carried the number allocated to them by the Scottish Examination board so when they sat exams, the system would recognise who was in the room via a sensor on the door. The pen was also able to open doors in the school that were electronically locked for security reasons.
A ‘bike hire’ idea whereby bikes were left in various places in Ellon, including the school, so that residents and school children could use them to get around. The aim was to improve mobility and use more environmentally friendly transport. Payment was made using an e-card.
A stationary supplies vending machine which would be installed at the school. It would contain pens, pencils, rubbers, rulers, calculators, post it notes, etc, all reasonably priced. All money made would fund the restocking of the machine.
A monthly subscription snack and food service, this was designed to offer students an alternative to school dinners, with healthy eating options as well as ‘food from around the world’ themed weeks.
A ‘Queue’ app – An app which will allow your phone to be buzzed when there is a table available in the canteen, so you do not have to queue.
As one of the Business Advisors, I was asked to support the group projects and answer any questions that they may have.
‘What would be the best way to fund this project, a loan, advertising revenue or sponsorship?’, ‘Should we use local produce to help support local businesses or go for cheaper suppliers further afield (More profit for the school)?’
‘Can you help us solve our staffing issues?’.
This helped the pupils come to terms with real business issues that we all face every day and understand why it is not always possible to take the course of action that we want for our businesses.
When it came to deciding the winners, it was a very tough call, as there were so many great ideas to choose from, but in the end each house produced a worthy winner.
All in all, it was a fantastic day and a great new experience for the pupils of Ellon Academy, who got an invaluable insight into the skills and behaviours required to run a successful business as well as the factors that influence its success or failure. They will build on these skills further as they hone their ideas to win the “Dragons Den” style competition for the overall winner back at Ellon Academy and I’m sure they will all do great!
It is reassuring to see that our young people are well behaved, creative and confident in their own abilities and shaping up well to become the skilled employees and entrepreneurs of the future!
Developing the Young Workforce North East Scotland (DYWNES) is an Aberdeen based Scottish Government funded organisation set up to engage with business and industry and encourage them to connect with local schools in order to build sustainable relationships. This will enable young people to take part in various employability related activity that will help prepare them for life after school.