Ready for business

October 25, 2012

I read with particular interest your article "Experiential enterprise: can-do students need hands-on teaching" (4 October) about the need for students to experience rather than just to learn about enterprise and employability skills. I have some experience to show that this is not only valuable but actually not as hard to deliver as many academics may think.

For more than a decade I have delivered a module for all the final-year undergraduates on language degrees at Leeds Metropolitan University in which they work in teams of four over a full year to undertake international market research projects on behalf of local businesses, following project briefs prepared for them by the managers in those businesses. The students practise the whole range of skills they have developed on their course (applied languages, team-working, time management, research, project management, data analysis, report-writing, presenting recommendations and so on) in a real-world environment based on genuine commercial needs and products.

The students appreciate that they are not working on a case study but with actual products and professionals who teach them about expectations in a professional environment. Over the years, those products have included fashion jewellery, specialist woven fabrics, language services, bathroom equipment and even high-speed, crash-proof shutter doors. Students are particularly fascinated by the company or factory tours as, for many of them, it will be the first time they have ever seen behind the facade of a business. The employers also prize the experience as they get valuable research undertaken that can assist them with their strategic development of international markets.

When I initiated the module almost 15 years ago, the main concern was that we might not be able to source sufficient quality projects from enough companies year after year. But this has never been the case. Many businesses, including major local companies such as Marshalls and Jacuzzi UK have supported us unfailingly, and in each of the past three years at least one student has been employed by their project company after completing their degree.

For those academics concerned that establishing and maintaining fruitful links with local businesses is too onerous or not fruitful, my experience shows just the opposite. As for the students, they truly appreciate that their experience provides them with incontrovertible evidence to prospective employers that they have not just learned about but have actually put into practice their theoretical knowledge and their skills within a wholly authentic environment.

Graham Webb, Business and academic development, Principal lecturer in Spanish and teacher fellow, School of Languages, Leeds Metropolitan University

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