Wanted: risk-takers for the next decade

2008

Employers may claim to hire for attitude, yet more often than not truly enterprising, creative people get overlooked or branded as "risky".

Yet the reality is that, in an increasingly competitive, global working world, firms need these risk-takers in their ranks more than ever.

A collection of essays by business leaders published by UK enterprise campaign group Make Your Mark has argued that firms are missing out by failing to recruit entrepreneurial individuals.

UK firms, it said, increasingly need highly skilled, creative, ambitious and enterprising staff, in other words people who can spot opportunities and have new ideas.

As Gordon Frazer, UK managing director of Microsoft, pointed out: "The future face of enterprise in the UK is a partnership based on imagination [and] one of the most effective ways of endorsing this is by keeping entrepreneurs engaged. The ability to stay ahead of the curve, to have new ideas, and to create new opportunities has never been more important."

Similarly, Duncan O'Leary and Paul Skidmore of the think-tank Demos argued that enterprise should be embedded within the teaching of employability skills, for both young people and adult learners.

"Common debate centres around literacy, numeracy, and communication – all of which are valuable and potentially life-changing skills. Yet these may not necessarily be the skills that will equip our nation to be enterprising go-getters in the global economy," said O'Leary.

Placing enterprise at the heart of debates around employability was just one of six major challenges identified by the report.

Businesses needed to be embracing the environmental and social ideas of many entrepreneurs, it argued.

Similarly, workplaces of the future would need enterprising people with global ambitions.

Therefore "enterprise" would need to become more important to debates around employability, meaning that companies should recruit and hold onto employees they might in the past have perceived to be "risky" entrepreneurial individuals.

The report called for a national culture of enterprise to be backed by local opportunities and the reshaping of communities as more enterprising places.

"An enterprise culture should form part of any vibrant place and local government across the country has a responsibility to identify and inspire local enterprise talent," it argued.

Enterprise education also needed to focus on practical enterprise opportunities and the appropriate mindsets – such as a "can-do" attitude and ability to take managed risks – rather than teaching business theory that would be out of date by the time current students become entrepreneurs.

Certain groups of people in the UK had untapped enterprise potential, the report suggested, yet there was a danger that by approaching them as a demographic, rather than individuals with aspirations and passions, they would be overlooked.

As entrepreneur Iqbal Wahhab observed: "Society must embrace diversity in enterprise and not pigeonhole people with stereotyped expectations...we should encourage the unexpected."

Entrepreneurs, finally, needed informal access to business ideas, mentors and networks, all things that were often overlooked by formal business support models, which often struggled to encourage collaboration and innovation.

Harry Rich, chief executive of Make Your Mark, said: "The UK is full of inspirational people who, whatever their background, have great ideas and the desire to drive positive change.

"Recognising enterprise talent should be an essential feature of recruitment strategies, and then the challenge to employers is to find opportunities within the workplace to allow this to talent to grow. This report makes it clear that entrepreneurial people are the source of future business growth," he added.

"Each generation defines enterprise according to its own needs and priorities. The future face of enterprise is characterized by new places, new technologies, and new skills," added Alessandra Buonfino, head of research at Demos.

"For enterprise to really leave its mark, it will need the right terrain for it to thrive on. Building an enterprise culture that is fit for the twenty-first century depends on exploiting these new emerging possibilities. Much will need changing: from what's in our textbooks to how society incentivises risk-taking," she continued.