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The Disraeli Room

The Disraeli Room

Blog Post

Work & Economic Independence: A practical view

20th May 2015


Perhaps for too long economic independence has seemed a distant, intangible concept far removed from the everyday lives of most of the population. Yet to achieve economic independence on an individual, community, regional and national scale is one of the key graduations of life: the daughter or son who moves from economic dependency on their parents to economic independence offers the individual growth, freedom, choice, confidence, self esteem and has knock on effects for the community in which the individual lives. For a community and region, economic independence offers similar advantages, with a greater ability to create wealth, innovate and develop all sectors of society and this in turn leads to civic renaissance through artistic, sporting and cultural development as well a wider economic-social coherence.

How can we spread the practicalities of economic independence so that more people and communities develop it? Why is it that across Europe there is still significant gaps in economic independence? Having recently visited and listened to many people in Spain, Portugal, Cornwall, Slovakia and Italy what we see is a tremendous potential – individually and regionally – but an underachievement and too many people still dependent on their families or the state despite the potential which is clearly present.

One way, perhaps, is to follow what is happening in a handful of schools in the West Midlands where young people, aged 15-18, are running enterprise projects which turn into actual companies and then trade in the market place. The practice is to offer young people the opportunity to place, next to their academic studies, real enterprise and work experience which results in them being paid, being project managers, being deliverers and being outfacing employees working with customers.

The approach starts with regular coaching sessions to older age groups (17-18 years) in aspects of leadership, management, enterprise, business and employability – this develops the QEAS (qualities, experiences, attitudes and skills) so much in demand by employers. Once this cohort has been coached through a programme, their job is to coach a group of younger people (15-17 year olds) i.e. they cascade their learning through peer coaching which builds in sustainability and succession to the approach. Once this is completed, then the young people design and deliver services: car washing, market stalls, a pop up café, a pop up school shop, summer activity days, Saturday morning activities (e.g. in sport, science and dance), all of which have paying customers to cover the costs of supplying the services.

In many cases this is the first experience that the young people have of work and economic independence and they really do it as opposed to learning about and by having to teach younger people about their experiences they have their learning and experiences re-enforced. So, they get paid, they project manage and deliver services, they deal with customers, customers pay. Sounds simple? Well actually, yes, and this all inside schools where the commitment from school is one hour per week inside the school day to focus on learning practical learning.

The work in the West Midlands has been made into a model and a methodology which can be used in any country and for a variety of age groups. One especially interesting dimension is how this practical approach is being adapted to support individuals and groups who have been marginalised or disadvantaged but who through this approach can develop economic independence, and the confidence and the voice to be heard in their home country.


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