There is widespread agreement around the contribution of enterprise development to the productivity and economic competitiveness of the United Kingdom, as with the majority of other developed market economies. Enterprise development is not only a source of jobs and wealth but also stimulates innovation, competition, market diversification and is the seedbed of future business activity. Therefore, enterprise development has a key role in stimulating economic growth.
Enterprise can take many forms. One form which is receiving increasing recognition is a social enterprise, given its role in bringing forward economic development through social change. Social enterprise is now higher on the political agenda than it has been for many years (Ridley-Duff and Bull, 2011). There is a great deal of discussion about the potential role of social enterprise in delivering public services and in contributing to the wider Big Society agenda. The sector is important not only because it employs significant numbers of people, but also because it delivers vital services, often those that other providers find difficult to do. The sector is also an important source of innovation and creativity (Eggers and MacMillan, 2013).
Data shows that there are at least 70,000 social enterprises in the UK, employing almost a million people and contributing £18.5 billion to the UK economy (ONS, 2012). The People’s Business report – recently published by Social Enterprise UK – reveals a significant rise in social enterprise start-ups over the last three years and outstripping small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) for growth in the UK. In Wales, a recent mapping of social enterprises identified:
- Approximately 3,000 social enterprises
- 29,000 full-time and 20,000 part-time employees working in the sector representing four percent of the workforce
- A turnover for the sector of £2.2 billion representing nearly three percent of the turnover of all enterprises in Wales
- A large range of organisations within the sector, with a number of social enterprises with hundreds of employees and levels of turnover in the millions, to social enterprises with one or two members of staff and turnover of less than £25,000.
In many disadvantaged areas, social enterprises are emerging to offer much-needed products and services in areas of market failure. There is much scope to harness this entrepreneurial and social culture to expand into new markets, develop products and services, and create employment and co-operative models of self-employment. In many cases, the culture is there but a range of provisions is needed that are focused on supporting the development of the leaders of social enterprises (commonly identified as social entrepreneurs) (Cabinet Office, 2011).
One of the key challenges to the development of social enterprises is the recruitment and development of people, particularly young people (Ashton, 2010; Welsh Assembly, 2010). A number of recent research reports have highlighted that recruitment is a particularly difficult area for social enterprises. One of the main reasons for this is that the job role requires not only practical skills related to the post but a fundamental understanding of the values base which underpins the business operations of the enterprise. The articulation of this values base is a crucial element in many social enterprises marketing and sales strategy and uniquely this requires the ‘buy-in’ of all staff within the business.
The individual point of entry into a social enterprise is an employee owner rather than just an employee – so any learning and skills development needs to give staff a sense of ownership in terms of how the business operates as well as specific trade. In addition, there is a need to consider the value of the enterprise in terms of economic, social, and environmental impact (i.e. triple-bottom-line accounting) which will not necessarily be addressed by businesses out of the social enterprise sector.
Against this context, an apprenticeship model of employment will provide social enterprises with an appropriate recruitment and growth strategy. In turn, the apprenticeship framework will make an important contribution to the development of the sector, through assisting in identifying and supporting the development of people who can bring forward opportunities plans for sustainability and growth.
Unlike a number of other sectors of the economy, there are no formal Apprenticeship programmes to develop an understanding of the role and value of social enterprises and develop the enterprising skills of new or existing members of staff in social enterprises. However, research undertaken in the development of this framework has highlighted a latent demand amongst social enterprises for an apprenticeship programme to assist in developing the skills required to meet the challenges and opportunities which will be faced by social enterprises in the near to mid-term, particularly in an ever more challenging task environment.
The tasks undertaken by apprentices will vary depending upon the age/maturity of the apprentice and the enterprising posture of the social enterprise. Smaller, less enterprising social enterprises suggested that the apprentice could be involved in supporting the enterprise to secure funding and other resources, as part of sustainability strategies. More enterprising organisations noted that an apprentice would have a key role to play in supporting new market and product/service development and bringing forward new ideas in terms of managing and running the business.
It is distinct from other frameworks within business administration and management leadership by its focus on the development of an understanding of specific aspects of working in a social enterprise (e.g. notions of employee ownership) and enterprising skills, as opposed to more functional management knowledge and skills. For example, within this framework, individuals will be supported to develop skills that enable them to create and implement solutions to challenges and opportunities through gaining resources from external stakeholders. Similarly, individuals will be exposed to situations where there is a need to be innovative and creative, to support in moving from ideas to action.
Therefore, the development of enterprising skills is distinct from other management frameworks where there is a focus on developing more functional skills related to allocating and monitoring the work of the team, giving feedback, briefing teams, supporting team members, managing conflict, procuring supplies, improving customer service.
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