Learning to play the game: delivering a Live Project to 800 First Year Business students
To succeed in that first interview, there is an even greater need today to be able to ‘play the game’; to impress the employer and be the one they want to take onto a graduate scheme or internship. The graduate job market is tough and super competitive, but full of brilliant opportunities for those with the confidence to jump through the hoops and get a foot in the door. At the University of Bedfordshire Business School we have addressed this through the introduction of compulsory practice weeks at each level of undergraduate study. For the first year students, this takes the form of a Live Project.
For many students the very thought of having to fight for a place is daunting and they find themselves lacking in efficacy. So the benefit for students who work on a Live Project in year one is that it gives them the confidence to feel they can ‘get a foot in the door’.
The University of Bedfordshire Business School has been delivering a Live Project to first year students for three consecutive years in collaboration with clients from Active Luton and Luton Borough Council. The clients explained that 1/3 of people in Luton (c71k) are inactive – so do less than 30 minutes activity per week. The direct cost in Luton is estimated to be £2.4 million with the figure increasing to £48 million when indirect costs are included. So, the benefits for the clients if the students achieved their aim of getting Lutonians more active, was huge!
The collaboration was part of the Business School’s Practice Week initiative where first year students put what they learn in the classroom into practice. During each year all the first year business students took part in this core activity; 259 students, supervised by 12 tutors each year - that is approximately 800 students in total. This long term partnership required considerable organisation skills and clarity, but worked to the mutual benefit of all parties. Persistence to keep the scale of the activity and resist temptation to simplify it, consequently reducing the educational benefits, was paramount. The three year project comprised:
- Year 1: 2014-15 examined the reasons and barriers why young people are not engaging in sports and leisure activities (Market Research)
- Year 2: 2015–16 explored the barriers to participation (identified by year 1), by examining the accessibility and suitability of facilities through ‘mystery visits’ (Mystery Shopping)
- Year 3: 2016–17 designed an awareness campaign to inspire and motivate the people of Luton to participate in more activity. (Change Strategies). At the launch all students met the clients to clarify the task and start planning. They then worked in teams to go out into the community to ‘test’ their ideas. At this point the networking and contacts and connections of the lead tutor and clients were utilised. Being confident to send nearly 300 first years out into the community requires considerable ground work with contacts briefed ready for their arrival. Once out there, students invariably use their initiative and the activity must be flexible enough to be shaped by students but maintain the relationship with contacts.
The final step was for each team to ’sell’ their idea to the panel (2 panels of employers running for two days) with 12 tutors in place making sure the schedule ran smoothly. It was worth it as the students were so excited. It sounded like it was ‘Britain’s got talent!’
At each stage students were trained in the necessary skills to complete the task with input from the clients to emphasise the credibility of the exercise. By overcoming any fears the students had before the project they learned how to play the game – to be brave and tactical and impress from the start.
The longitudinal aspect of this partnership is one of the reasons this final year has proved so fruitful. The responsibility of the results of the previous years’ weighs heavy on the current groups to continue to succeed. The Mayor, the Vice Chancellor and the Dean all joined the celebrations where winning teams received prizes. The winning team designed bill board concepts which will be displayed around the town.
Aviation and Airport Management student Frantisek said: ‘It feels brilliant to have won. It was very much a team effort and we were pleased our project was chosen and that the client liked our ideas.’
Business Economics student Kamila said: ‘It was a great experience for us. It has really helped me develop my communications skills and learn how to work under pressure.’
Active Luton’s Matt Corder said ‘We were impressed with how the students met with people in the community, visited our sports facilities and put together their campaigns from their research and observations. Their insight work will help us and the council in many aspects of our work to improve the health and wellbeing of Luton’s residents – from children and young people right through to older people’.
By taking part in Live Projects, the Business School believes that all students will be better prepared to ‘play the game’ and relate to employers in a confident responsible way enabling them to stand out as the preferred candidate when they come to apply for graduate posts.
‘Success comes from having dreams that are bigger than your fears’ - Dr Nina Ansary.