Generation next - How schools are simulating business for budding entrepreneurs

512x512-MyBus-Icon-V3_flattenAustralian Business Week's simulations aim to introduce schoolchildren to some of the decisions they'll need to make and skills they'll need to master to run a successful company.

One criticism often leveled at our school system is the lack of ‘real-world’ experience it offers students. Business-minded pupils or those with an entrepreneurial bent in particular are simply not being given the tools they need.

Australian Business Week aims to address some of these concerns by offering pupils the chance to run their own business through a series of simulations in the manufacturing, IT, retail or hospitality sectors. The students make real business decisions and track the share value of their company as a gauge of their success.

Among other things, the program requires small teams of schoolchildren to produce a trade display, a TV commercial, a shareholders briefing and a written company report. Team members chose their own roles and appoint a CEO. In the past 12 months, over 10,000 schoolkids have taken part.

Sydney’s The Scots College is one of the schools to have made the program a compulsory part of their Year 10 curriculum. According to David Inches, the College’s Director of Vocation and Enterprise, “With the real life simulations being a central aspect of the program, the boys can tap into their many skills, including financial analysis, public speaking, managing teams, video production and creativity. Many Scots graduates enter the world of business and finance, so giving them an early taste of the complexities and challenges was a key aspect of our decision to get involved with ABW.”

Depending on which simulation their school has chosen, the students make decisions about how many factories or hotels to open and how best to configure them; all marketing inputs such as price, sales force and advertising; as well as having to manage their financial resources. The Scots College even requires its students to wear business attire for the duration of the program to help get them into the right frame of mind.

The most popular simulation is manufacturing, and indeed this was the simulation chosen by the Scots College in both 2010 and 2011. “Manufacturing was chosen because of its similarity to the boys’ possible future careers. The other options, hospitality and retail, are not large end-points for Scots graduates. Manufacturing is also very visual, which engages our students quite strongly,” says Inches.

The teams are allowed to consult with a business mentor, who can advise them on some of their key decisions. In the case of Scots, the mentors are often former pupils or employees of their program sponsor Investec. “Past students from The Scots College volunteer to be mentors and guest speakers, and come from many different industry sectors and entrepreneurial profiles. Investec has been very helpful by providing several volunteers from their staff who become business mentors. Investec also provides us with an award for the most innovative new product,” says Inches.

The Scots College also offer prizes for the best trade display, the best written company report, the best 30 second TV commercial, the best oral presentation of the annual report and of course for the team that is crowned Grand Champion. Australian Business Week also runs an optional National Award which pits the winning teams from different schools against each other.

Scots is committed to running the program in 2012, which will also see some changes introduced to the simulation itself. Starting with the manufacturing version, ABW coordinators will be able to make changes to the demand curve, adjust the currency exchange rates, vary wages and include news flashes. These changes will give individuals the opportunity to create their own, unique market environment. 2012 will also see the introduction of a single-player version of the online simulations that will pit individuals against three cyber opponents.

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