Britain’s got a talent crisis

Britain's got a talent crisis

Britain’s got a talent crisis

Whilst exhibiting our new on-line simulation product at this year’s Learning Technologies Show in London, I noticed a man patiently looking over our stand. Curious to know more about his interest, I walked over and introduced myself.

I had no idea the ensuing conversation with Nathan Baker would lead me to discover why Britain’s got a talent crisis and that our work might be part of a wider solution.

Engineering a problem

Nathan Baker is the recently appointed Director of Engineering Knowledge at The Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), an organisation with over 80,000 members in over 150 countries. A strategic and operational leader Nathan is keen to transform the way the engineering industry is perceived and the way in which engineers (regardless of career point) are able to learn and access relevant training.

Engineering projects experience exponential increase

Engineering projects experience exponential increase

According to Nathan, engineering is a booming industry; the multi-billion pound plans for UK infrastructure development over the coming years mean an additional 1.8 million engineers will need to be employed. However, only 50,000 engineering graduates are qualifying each year.

And in March 2015 a report was published by the design, engineering and project management consultancy, Atkins, predicting a severe UK shortage of engineering skills.  Entitled The Skills Deficit: Consequences and opportunities for UK infrastructure the document highlights a number of consequences including increased costs, delay to projects, stifling of innovation and damage to the economy.

So how does the engineering industry address this problem?

Engineering a solution

In May this year I was invited to a ‘Learning Delivery Partner’ event at ICE HQ in Westminster. Leading the presentation, Nathan Baker explained to the audience how he wanted the Institution to work with digital partners to help transform the way in which engineers learned and developed skills.

Talking with eloquence and clarity, he argued that traditional learning and teaching methods were insufficient to meet the demands of the future. Nathan wanted new and relevant resources that allowed people to learn the right skills, at the right time and in the right place.

And since he saw business and commercial skills as a highly relevant part of an engineer’s skill-set, Nathan was keen for on-line business simulations to be incorporated with a view to providing a flexible training solution to the ICE membership.

Teaching business to engineers

Whilst SimVenture is used in most UK higher education institutions to support the teaching of business and entrepreneurship, it has also been introduced to support engineering degree programs at Cambridge, Birmingham and Loughborough etc.

Most recently London South Bank University invested in our work to allow engineering undergraduate students to develop employability skills and a gain deeper understanding of business. Plans are also in place to complete research to establish the impact of the simulations over the coming years.

Given the talent crisis facing the engineering sector I think there’s plenty of scope for us to work with many more university engineering departments. However, Nathan’s transformational ideas for training engineers indicates there should be as many opportunities for forward-think departments to work more closely with ICE too.

Key Learning Points: Engineering employment opportunities are set to boom in the UK and around the world. To meet the demands of the industry and to equip/attract suitably qualified personnel means developing new ways to engage people and providing the relevant skills at a time/place to suit.

Business advisers must nurture people

Business advisers must nurture peopleWhilst my work involves frequent presentations to people within education, it’s rare for me to be in a primary school.

But this last week, one audience was a class of enthusiastic Year 6 pupils from the Yorkshire town of Selby.

Being enterprising (and specifically making and selling biscuits) is to be a key part of the pupils’ forthcoming school fayre and was thus the topic in the presentation spotlight. It was my job to inspire and advise. We had a ball, and the hour passed far too quickly.

Advising Start-ups

Being a short drive from the office, I was back at my desk later that afternoon in time to take a Skype call from 2 Chester University graduates. They had recently started out in business. Like their Year 6 counterparts, their energy was infectious although some of the thinking needed refinement and polish.

As the 3 of us chatted I reflected on Alex Osterwalder’s and Steve Blank’s work with the Business Model Canvas. I could see how both the 2 young entrepreneurs as well as Year 6 kids were working through the early stages of their venture to test out ideas and discover what worked and what didn’t. Hopefully, the collective experience would prove to be invaluable research, from which the business that ultimately performed would flourish.

Critical empathy

My early days in my first start-up were full of mistakes, naive thinking and flawed assumptions. It took me over 3 years to find a business model that really worked. In that time I received support from a number of advisers, but unlike many people I knew back then, no one rubbished my half-baked ideas and skewed dreams . It’s probably a key reason why I stayed self-employed.

For me, business advisers must nurture people first rather than simply focus on the business idea and levels of acumen. Whilst untruths help no-one, being blunt is typically inappropriate – unless of course disaster is imminent. Alongside guidance, we have to show empathy, kindness and care in order to be able to influence thinking and ultimately gain a position of trust where advice can be offered and received with appropriate effect.

In his now famous  ‘Bring on the Learning Revolution’ TED presentation at Long Beach California, Sir Ken Robinson reads one of Yeats’ famous poems. Robinson does so to make the point that we need to tread softly when helping young children to learn. The poem in question ‘Cloths of Heaven’ should also in my opinion be part of any training for business advisers seeking to support entrepreneurs.

Cloths of Heaven

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

William Butler Yeats

Key Learning Points: Opportunities to work with people who possess energy, enthusiasm and an appetite for work should be treasured. Whether acting as teacher or business adviser, this is the time to shape thinking and forge influential and lasting relationships.


Septic Blatter has a toxic whiff

Septic Blatter has a toxic whiff

Septic Blatter has a toxic whiff

Ten years ago when the kids were just out of pushchairs we were walking in the Yorkshire Moors.

Towards the summit of a hill an elderly man strode past us. He was full of ebullience but empty on engagement.

That man was Jimmy Saville. I remember thinking at the time there was something disturbing about his eccentric behaviour. But I had no idea what Pandora’s Box would later reveal.

And that’s how I fear the behaviour of Mr Joseph Blatter. For years, I believe he has clung onto the FIFA presidency to guard himself from a plethora of corrupt and dirty decisions going public. But with this week’s revelations and resignation, his protective cloak of authority is slipping fast. Denial will be no shield against the focused power of truth-seeking global forces.

Ethical lessons

But regardless of why I think Septic Blatter has a toxic whiff (please note, I am not suggesting Mr Blatter is a sexual predator for one minute), how does this issue of ethics impact entrepreneurs?

Power and success has the capacity to corrupt, sometimes with ease. As humans, I’d argue we are all susceptible to self-importance and the creep of selfishness. Leaders need to put others first and build trust with all stakeholders so that others follow, and most importantly want to follow for all the right reasons.

Related to this issue is a recent research study (reported in April’s edition of ‘The Leadership Quarterly’) which examined how Swiss business students (how ironic)  handled financial decisions when placed in positions of power.  People assigned leader roles were given money to share with ‘followers’. The leaders decided unilaterally how the money would be distributed.

‘Psychology Today’ reports the study’s results in more detail but the conclusion is that power does corrupt, although not necessarily absolutely.

As entrepreneurs and business leaders we need to be constantly aware of the negative impact of our own selfish interests. No one is perfect, but unchecked dishonesty can spiral issues out of control and ultimately cause widespread damage. And since we live in a global, connected society, social media has the power to quickly bring us to account.

Key Learning Points: Trust is perhaps the most critical issue in business because it brings people together and sustains positive and growing relationships. Deceit and dishonesty quickly destroy trust. Entrepreneurs who behave ethically and consistently are far more likely to succeed in the long term and sleep easier at night.  




Game-changing business simulation

Creating SimVenture Evolution, a game-changing business simulation

Creating SimVenture Evolution, a game-changing business simulation

Whilst the team is yet to see the blood, much sweat and the occasional tear has been shed whilst building what we believe will be a game-changing business simulation.

SimVenture Evolution has taken 4 years of our lives, but everyone involved in the project knows the time has been well spent. The new technology takes all that is good from the original SimVenture software and adds a range of new features which we believe will advance learning and teaching in the fields of business and entrepreneurship.

SimVenture Evolution launches in early 2015.

Game-changing business simulation – what makes it special?

Since the original software (SimVenture) was created in 2006, the team has been learning from and working with people throughout the world. We’ve been continually gathering feedback and discovering what is needed so teachers and trainers can work more efficiently and effectively and users can access engaging and authentic resources that accelerate and embed learning. SimVenture Evolution is the result of all this work.

You can find out more about SimVenture Evolution on the new website, but below is a ‘summary list of key features:

  1. Evolution is an on-line business simulation allowing user access wherever there is an internet connection
  2. Being on-line means there is no need to install proprietary software on internal systems
  3. Multi-platform access – Evolution can be used on Mac, Tablet or PC
  4. Multi-player functionality allows people to compete against other people or the computer
  5. Users run a business for up to 10 simulated years (to SME size) and address all major areas of business
  6. Using different computers, teams can work together or work remotely on the same ‘game’
  7. The sophisticated simulation engine is designed so markets fluctuate and replicate real-world behaviour
  8. Relevant information about key business and entrepreneurship issues is included within the software
  9. Control tower functionality allows teachers/trainers to set, observe, communicate with and assess work remotely
  10. Bite-size user activities are incorporated into the simulation so teachers can focus on subjects, themes & relate work to course objectives
  11. User data is continually captured allowing for powerful in-depth post simulation reflections and presentations
  12. The simulation is designed to be translated into any language and teachers/trainers can add relevant information, images and web-links
  13. Offered from £25 per user per annum, Evolution is the cost of a text book but gives the user much more
  14. Using simple account login access, Evolution provides a flexible, powerful and personal learning resource

As part of the build up to the launch of Evolution, we were delighted that 10 Higher Education Institutions chose to Partner with the team and as a result receive 2 years’ site wide use of the simulation as well as training and materials. If you have any queries, suggestions or ideas about using this game-changing business simulation, please do get in touch or leave a note.

Seasons greetings and in the spirit of the subject and the time of year, here’s a Santa simulator I found which you may also like to try…



Can you teach entrepreneurship?

Can you teach entrepreneurship?

Can you teach entrepreneurship?

The question “Can you teach entrepreneurship?” has received much attention over the last decade.

People who teach entrepreneurship have an important job to do. However, much like the relationship between a ‘product’ and its life sustaining ‘market’, more consideration needs to be given to how people learn/engage with this subject. For me, there’s still a considerable over-emphasis on traditional didactic pedagogy. Insufficient thought is being applied to how learners learn.

[Read more…]

The listening skill pill win £500! (competition now closed)

Who needs the listening skill pill?

Who needs the listening skill pill?

It intrigues me that I’ve never found a course focusing on effective listening. Whilst we know listening is one of the most important skills to acquire, many of us also recognise our inability to listen well… [Read more…]

Ballooning over Cappadocia

Ballooning over Cappadocia at sunrise. We counted 92 balloons.

Ballooning over Cappadocia at sunrise. We counted 92 balloons.

Waking to the sound of  an alarm shouldn’t be part of any holiday. But this morning, the family is ballooning over Cappadocia.

It’s 4am. In 20 minutes, a minibus will pick us up from our cave hotel. In little over an hour, and before the sun has risen, we will be climbing towards Turkey’s rich and loyal blue skies. The air will be warm, clear and still. The views will be breathtaking. And then the sun will rise… [Read more…]