UNDERGRADUATES are becoming an increasingly entrepreneurial bunch to cope with the current global reality where a good degree from a good university no longer guarantees a good job upon graduation.
BT has just cancelled its graduate recruitment scheme and other large corporates have cut back on the number of university leavers they are taking on as recession forces them to tighten the purse strings.
Enterprise skills are now recognised as a vital part of young people’s armoury, according to feedback from Durham University students who took part in research into attitudes towards entrepreneurship.
As well as being more likely to start up their own businesses, today’s students and graduates consider entrepreneurial skills to be important assets when seeking employment in the corporate world.
More than 2,000 undergraduates took part in the project carried out by the university’s Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning, which found that students believed university was the right place to develop these essential skills and attitudes.
A strong focus on achieving, a desire to see things through and an imaginative use of knowledge emerged as the top-three traits that students thought would help them to succeed. But despite strong university support in teaching these skills, there is still plenty to do to equip undergraduates with the abilities that the business world wants – especially in the current climate.
Graduates who have left Durham are now “absolutely shocked they are unemployed”, according Dinah Bennett, director of the Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning, who presented the report at the House of Lords earlier in the summer with Prof Allan Gibb OBE, the university’s Emeritus Professor of small business and entrepreneurship.
She said: “You go to a good university and get a good degree, you expect to get a good job. But 48 people are going for one job. They are seeing it all around them. They are seeing, feeling and experiencing that.”
The media focus on the difficulties graduates currently face finding jobs, coupled with a generation brought up on a diet of enterprise education at school and a reality TV schedule where entrepreneurship is the new rock ‘n’ roll, has rammed the message home.
“They are not a blank sheet. There was a great expectation they wanted entrepreneurial education,” Ms Bennett said.
“A lot of them now have role models of people who are entrepreneurial. Around 47% had a family member who was running a business. Also a lot of them tell us their favourite programmes are The Apprentice or Dragons’ Den – students are really hooked on that.”
Dubbed ‘Generation Z’, the current crop of undergraduates are prepared to use this grounding to start their own business if they are unable to find the right job Around 17% of those quizzed saw themselves becoming self-employed or starting their own enterprises after they graduated.
The research discovered that Generation Z – young people now coming through the system who have benefited from the Government’s £60m a year spend on enterprise education since 2005 – had different motivations to Generation Y which came before. Innovative, creative and flexible are among the key terms associated with this new generation, which is also not afraid to ask for the support it needs to succeed.
Durham University is now responding to demand from students for help in setting up businesses while they are still studying, by setting up undergraduate venture creation programmes to provide guidance.
Although the university’s Business School has a strong reputation for encouraging student enterprise, Ms Bennett says the new challenge – and demand – is for entrepreneurial skill building across all parts of the institution.
“It’s recognising that entrepreneurial skills is not just setting up your own business, you can be entrepreneurial in the corporate sense,” she said.
“It really is embedding this and ramping it up across the university - staff as well as students. Staff are realising they must be more enterprising in their research teaching and must spot opportunities to bring money in.
“Generation Z – they are hungry to create something new. They are creating their own future. It’s just how we adapt to this.
“The switched-on students are grasping the nettle and taking advantage of these opportunities.”
Page 2: Case Study: Entrust
Case Study: Entrust
BUSINESS development company Entrust – the trading name of the Tyne & Wear Enterprise Trust – has also spotted changes in the motivations of the current crop of graduates.
The organisation, which works with smaller firms and graduates, is seeing a recognition among young people that a decent career won’t be handed to them on a plate.
"I think students are learning they have to be enterprising and show more initiative. They are learning they can’t be spoon-fed; that time has passed," says Entrust’s Jo Lennon, pictured right.
"They have to put some hard work into it and show employers what they can do.
"A lot of students at university now are very worried – a lot have large debts from tuition fees and accommodation – and news stories about the recession have probably fuelled their understanding.
"Graduates are being told it will be people leaving now that will be hit. There has been a lot of surveys and studies about what the effect [of the recession] will be on graduates.
"Even students getting their GCSE results should think about what they want to do for their degrees and find out what the degrees are that employers want."
Entrust supports the Shell Step programme, which has been placing undergraduates in paid positions in small businesses for 23 years. The eight-week programmes provide projects for the students to work on, such as developing new services and building websites, and brings fresh ideas to small firms.
It gives students an insight into how smaller businesses are run and aims to attract young talent to the SME sector, rather than automatically planning their career with a large bluechip company.
"Certainly the Shell Step programme shows a lot of people how SMEs work and maybe it makes it a bit more real," said Ms Lennon.
"I think it’s definitely a good thing for students and for businesses. A lot of small businesses were losing out to larger companies, especially in the North East."
Page 3: Case Study: Matthew Heap
Case Study: Matthew Heap
DURHAM graduate Matt Heap was midway through his four-year engineering degree when he seriously started to consider setting up his own business.
Now the just-graduated 23-year-old has two – online student accommodation portal Sturents.com and student text book trading website iswapbooks.co.uk.
"I’d always had an ambition to work for myself," said Mr Heap, pictured right, who counts a number of relatives with their own businesses as his inspiration.
"It was only really in my second year when I really started to see an opportunity of what I could do."
He set up Sturents.com last year after receiving advice from the university’s Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning and the newly-formed university Entrepreneurial Society. The chill wind of wind of recession and the difficulty in landing a graduate job have helped push more people into an entrepreneurial mindset, he believes.
"During my last year, there was a lot of awareness and people were finding it hard to get jobs. The job market is so tough – people are coming out with Firsts in law and they still can’t get a job," he said.
Mr Heap reckons that many graduates now consider the idea of starting their own enterprise almost like a year out while they try to pin down the job they want.
"It’s a very good use of a year to do something for yourself," he said.
Sturents.com , which is free for students and accommodation providers to use and makes its money from advertising, has already spread from Durham to Newcastle, York, Manchester and Liverpool. Mr Heap is aiming to have 10 cities covered by the end of the year and the business is in the running for a prestigious International Property Award.
"It’s certainly a long-term project; we’ve expanded very rapidly and we’re starting to see quite a nice income," he said. "It’s now almost a revolution in the way students can find accommodation."
iswapbooks, which has been running for five months, is also expanding quickly with 18 universities signed up and 3,000 books online.