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Enterprising education

Luke Baker | 15 Nov 2016 | Comments

The relationship between further education and business is a long and fruitful one. Each year, around three million people are trained by colleges across the UK, including almost 300,000 apprentices or, to put it another way, half of all construction, engineering and manufacturing apprentices. The average college also works with around 600 businesses to provide training for their staff – clearly business and further education do an awful lot for each other.

There is, however, another manifestation of this relationship we should be taking note of - one that promises to play an increasingly pivotal role in not just work force provision, but also individual ambition and, ultimately, social mobility.

Most colleges today have some form of SME business incubator which brings together business, technology and education in an environment of innovation and entrepreneurialism. Whether located within an estate, off campus or as part of an affiliated organisation, these incubators look to support individuals and start-ups by providing the facilities and guidance needed to bring new ideas, products and services into the marketplace.

One of the latest incubators to open in the UK is INCUBA – a new learning and innovation centre developed by Central Bedfordshire College in partnership with Central Bedfordshire Council and the European Regional Development Fund. Designed by Atkins, this duel use building fuses further education learning spaces with rentable incubator offices, flexible meeting rooms, collaboration areas and a range of business and education support spaces. It is not just a hub for ideas and aspiration but a place where new businesses are born and nurtured.

So why are incubators becoming more important and more prominent?

The answer is Generation Z.

Generation Z is the post-millennial generation who promise to pack an entrepreneurial punch. Tech-savvy (they don’t know life without the internet), independent and extremely ambitious, they see a digital landscape with opportunities abound, where anyone can make it and make it big. They have ideas, energy and a technological aptitude to work hard, fast and collaboratively. They value networks, connections and different points of view. Theirs is a multi-coloured, competitive world where innovation, risk and speed is rewarded.

SME incubators may well prove to be the perfect environment for Generation Z. Perhaps the fusion of education, business and technology will attract those wanting a quicker and more hands-on route to success? Perhaps some post-millennials see Higher Education as a long journey which cannot guarantee an acceptable return on investment? Perhaps Generation Z would prefer to take risks to become employers themselves, rather than employees?

If the answers to these questions are ‘yes’, we may find further education incubators being more in demand and visible than ever before. We could very well be entering a new era of ‘enterprising education’.