Sheep dipping is no longer a legal requirement, but for many farmers it remains a vital twice yearly event that protects their flock from diseases. The benefits outweigh the costs because sheep dipping works. For sheep, that is.
How is this relevant to enterprise education? And what is sheep dipping in this context?
Imagine this: a large group of animals are corralled into a pen and then forced - or should I say encouraged - to swim through a long trough of liquid containing insecticide and fungicide to emerge a little disgruntled but protected. Farmers will tell you that sheep are not generally happy to repeat this exercise. That's because, despite what you may think, they are not stupid: research shows that they can learn and remember - and they are not exactly keen swimmers. However, as long as sheep in equals (wet) sheep out - job done.
Now, let's consider business and enterprise education in schools. I admit that might seem like a bit of a jump, yet the way we are currently trying to teach enterprise in schools has many parallels with sheep dipping. First, we must ask why we need to do something to encourage young people to think positively about business and then make sure that they really do have the skills to secure a job or to build their own business.
Currently, according to our own research at Young Enterprise, 70% of UK employers say it is difficult to find good quality applicants for entry-level jobs; research by the FSB stated 37% of firms said the lack of skills was a barrier to growth compared to 25% one year earlier; 43% of UK employers say the education system is not equipping young people with the right skills for them to enter the workforce and 92% of employers say it is important to offer enterprise education as part of the national curriculum in schools, even though it is no longer statutory.
Lord Young's 'Enterprise for All' report stated that young people "are far more likely to have multiple careers with various employers, ranging from global multinationals to small and micro employers" and they are more likely than ever to run their own business. However, RBS's Enterprise Tracker (2013) showed that, although over the last three years the gap between those young people (18 - 30) who want to start a business and those who actually do start one has narrowed, it is still significant, at 55% to 11%. At the moment we're just not giving our young people the skills to start their own business. For the majority, a career as an entrepreneur will remain a dream unfulfilled and that's a huge waste of young, enthusiastic economic potential.
Nationally we do accept there is a problem. We know that many young people have unfulfilled aspirations and potential, and, yes, we are doing more than ever before. But it is still not enough. With further investment in skills education we could do so much more to unlock entrepreneurial potential, resulting in huge returns for Britain and our young people.
However, right now in schools and beyond, we're largely tackling this enterprise-education challenge by 'sheep dipping' students. Young people will remember when they were subjected to a short lecture-type lesson, seemingly unrelated to any other activity in their school year and they wondered what the point of it was? The style and delivery of enterprise-education in schools is fundamental to the scale of rewards it can reap for students and society.
Corralling a large number of young people and putting them through a brief and shallow intervention in the hope that they'll swim out the other side fully enterprise-educated and skilled is not a realistic or responsible ambition. Outside of school, it's OK to drive around the country in a bus enticing people to be entrepreneurs, or to hold an 'Enterprise Convention' as long as there is a follow-on plan for the enticed - and that doesn't mean referral to a website that promotes similar dips.
Small-scale and short-term exercises, that touch on and talk about enterprise, are unlikely to produce sustainable long-term results. That's because sheep dipping young people, unlike sheep dipping sheep, doesn't have clear aims or expectations about the outcomes, only about the outputs. This is very useful for PR purposes but not so much for young people's learning. It provides the same experience for all with little or no consideration for the learners' needs or their starting points. Real learning opportunities (journeys) need to be accessible for all and appeal to a range of learning styles including visual, kinaesthetic, auditory and tactile. A significant portion of this journey must include learning by doing. This is the way you embed and develop the key skills of communication, creativity, resilience, problem solving and teamwork. In enterprise sheep dipping, sometimes, the only learning journey is the route to and from the event.
For lasting change, we need something different. Learning interventions at their best are long-term, fully immersive (no pun intended), accessible to a range of learning styles, cumulative and with built in opportunities for reflection and assessment of their personal journey covered so far.
So yes, there may well be a place for initial sheep dipping in enterprise education, but if we want the best for our young people and the best value for taxpayers' money, it must be part of a cohesive strategy that embeds enterprise education across the curriculum for every age group. If we find the will, the leadership and the funding to do this we would create a sustainable, world-beating enterprise culture, led by hundreds of thousands of skilled and inspired young game-changers. That's how to create an Enterprise Culture.