A new entrepreneurship mentor programme connecting Mercury Bay Area school students with business owners has been a positive learning curve for participants with some surprising results.
The Secondary School Employer Programme (SSEP for short) is a programme offered in partnership with Smart Waikato. It was introduced to classes in February and ran each term.
In a year which has seen a Covid-19 pandemic lockdown and disruptions to both school and business life SSEP has produced some refreshing results. Over this year 17 local businesses and 100 students took part in the programme. The Smart Waikato team commented that it was a credit to all participants that the programme at Mercury Bay Area School continued throughout all four terms during the challenges of Covid-19.
Along with the practical business knowledge and skills gained during the programme, the support of business mentors inspires students to think about entrepreneurship as a career possibility and helps students develop confidence, communication and professional presentation skills.
Project Support and Communications Coordinator Smart Waikato Trust, Anna Allison
Business experience with fresh ideas
In essence SSEP is an innovative and simple partnership concept. The programme matches small groups of up to five Year Nine students aged 13 and 14 with a local business mentor. Mentors have represented a diverse range of industries including retail, tourism, marketing, trades, and the civil service.
Student groups go through a business set-up experience and are responsible for researching a business idea, then developing and selling their own products and services over the period of one term (approximately 10 weeks). Their business mentor works alongside them to provide encouragement, knowledge and to act as a ‘sounding board’ to develop their business ideas to fruition. Students also had the opportunity to visit their mentor’s workplace to find out about their mentor’s business and see first-hand how what they were learning in the classroom applies in the real world.
Positive outcomes across the board
SSEP teachers and mentors are natural advocates of the way SSEP is providing tangible real-life business lessons. And the results and feedback from the students that have participated also endorse the programme and the value it provides for gaining real life learning experiences.
Student feedback on the programme has included:
- I enjoyed listening about how they have gotten to where they are now and how they can help us in our project
- I enjoyed how our mentor helped us learn about creating businesses and communication in the real world
- I liked learning about our skills we have when we work together
- Our mentor was really cool and helped us a lot
- Learning about creating businesses and helping me with my communication in the real world
- I liked working as a team
- I learnt that you only need ideas to start a business.
Success of the Smart Waikato programme
Smart Waikato’s SSEP has been running in the Waikato region for 5 years. Surveys of students involved have shown that the experience of having business people in their school and going out into their workplace:
- has helped 81.2% of students understand why they are studying the subject
- made 75.6% more interested in the subject
- influenced what 76% of students feel they can achieve.
Mercury Bay Area School business student projects
Business ideas and products have included the production and sale of soaps, zinc, lip gloss, surf wax, macrame and candles.
We have seen some real successes in the programme over this year and have also learnt some valuable lessons for shaping future programmes. It was also exciting to see the range of products and how students used innovative approaches to get them to the market.
SSEP Coordinator Mercury Bay Area School, Debbie Reader
Teacher and business mentors at term four debrief. Pictured (Left to right back to front row) Mark Collins, Darren Hartley, Milan Lukic, Anna Allison, Mark Bergin, Cathy Klouwens, Debbie Reader, John Wright.
Plans for a new look programme in 2021 underway
Feedback from all of the participants is being used to reshape the programme for 2021. This will include changing the student group from year 9 students to year 10 students. The programme will also be offered across the whole year rather than just one term to allow for more time to complete business projects.
Last word – a business mentor perspective
As a participating business mentor in the last term of this year’s programme it has been exciting to be connected to what the world view of young budding entrepreneurs looks like. The process of getting from planning, through production to sales may well be a bit of a bumpy ride for some students. But that’s part of entrepreneurship and business planning and contributes to the learning outcomes for this programme.
Not all students have taken to the concept of creating a business from scratch like ducks to water. The reality is that its challenging if not a stretch when you have had little or no business experience. However, little business experience does not mean no experience. Over half of the students in the learning class I have been assigned to have had after school jobs or sold an item like a PlayStation online.
When recently introduced to the class that I am working with this term there was a mixture of shy, undecided and some vocal young entrepreneurs.
I asked what the class would like to get out of this project and one student was quick to reply, “to make money” (supported by affirmative nods from his group). That would be an achievement which I hope each group reaches. And the path to getting there together is half the fun.
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