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In the hotseat: Peter Jones


Best known for slaying entrepreneurs in BB2’s Dragons’ Den, Peter Jones now has the nation's business skills in his sights. Verity Gough gets the inside story.

In recent years the government push for up-skilling Britain’s young people has seen a number of academies opening with the aim of helping to help bridge the skills gap. However, the most recent addition - the National Enterprise Academy (NEA) - is decidedly different.

For a start, rather than simply being another government institution, this is the brainchild of successful celebrity entrepreneur and Dragon, Peter Jones CBE and secondly because it has stemmed from his own personal dream to create the nation’s first dedicated enterprise academy. And with a lack of skills high on the political agenda, the NEA is getting the full support of the government.

The newly-established NEA, which launched two of its colleges in Manchester and Amersham at the end of September, will deliver the UK’s first full-time accredited courses in Enterprise and Entrepreneurship giving students the skills, experience and support to learn how to set up and run successful and innovative businesses, or to become enterprising employees, helping to grow existing businesses. Heralded as ‘a place where the boardroom meets the classroom’ the NEA hopes to spark a change in the way business is taught to young people. But with famous entrepreneurs such as Sir Philip Green and fellow Dragon, Theo Pathitis stepping up to endorse the Retail Skills Academy, couldn’t the public be forgiven for thinking that Peter Jones is simply jumping on the bandwagon?

"Dragons’ Den has become very much a cult programme within the UK and has helped to shift the ideal that youngsters want to be pop stars. Now the number one profession to be is an entrepreneur."

Not so, argues Jones, who is quick to defend his decision to launch the NEA after feeling less than enamoured with the current state of the business skills training and lack of options for youngsters looking to study business. “If you are at that age and want to study enterprise, you do a business studies course which, while this is great, all I’m going to say in a polite way is that NEA is a much needed thing in the UK,” he explains.

In fact such is his passion for the NEA project that it has been some three years in the making: “It is very different to what Theo and the others you mention are doing,” says Jones. “They are attaching their names to existing facilities that have already occurred. This is something that I started in 2006 - this is a dream!” he enthuses.

Aimed squarely at 16 – 19 year-olds, the NEA is dedicated to teaching all aspects of business and enterprise and is a far cry from the traditional business studies courses available in most FE colleges. “This is Britain’s first enterprise academy. If someone wants to set up a business or wants to learn about business or enterprise, there is only one academy in the country – and that is the National Enterprise Academy and that will deliver the enterprise curriculum so that is the real difference between every other academy you care to mention,” he says.

"I don’t want anyone to have a pre-conceived idea. I’m an entrepreneur and a business man but I have done this because it’s my passion."

So how exactly is the training delivered? “It’s a full time course and you end up with a qualification of certificate levels 2 and 3,” explains Jones. “We have driven the curriculum - and I have written a lot of it myself. It’s fully approved and now it’s in its first year.”

Never one to think small, Jones’ plans for the academy are nothing if not ambitious: “We plan to expand the two academies to have nine other physical academies over the next five years,” he says. “In five to seven years we will have taught nearly 18000 to 20000 students,” he enthuses.  “It’s very, very exciting and is something that I’m hoping will potentially change the way that enterprise education is delivered in a European, if not global basis.”

However, it’s hard to ignore the fact that Jones’ reputation as a Dragon is unlikely to put off young people eager to be studying a subject considered ‘cool’ by their peers. “Dragons’ Den has become very much a cult programme within the UK and has helped to shift the ideal that youngsters want to be pop stars. Now the number one profession to be is an entrepreneur and Dragons’ Den has played its part in delivering that,” says Jones.

So with his new position as founder of the NEA is Jones prepared to be a role model to young people? “I don’t want anyone to have a pre-conceived idea. Personally, I’m an entrepreneur and a business man but I have done this because it’s my passion and how people view me is obviously important to me as a person, but it’s not going to put me off or have any of my opinions shaped around it,” he reflects. “At the end of the day, I am a realist and I also know that I am highly-regarded within that [young people] community. As long as they see that I am doing good and more importantly they benefit from what I’m doing, then I’m happy.”

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