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It’s important to us that Elephant Creative is built on a basis of giving back to the business community as well as being pretty darn good at what we do professionally. It’s too easy to get swamped with big commercial projects and miss out on things that make a difference in a wider context. It might seem like a distant dream, when we’re up to our ears in CRM roll-outs or product launch strategies, but there are times when we’re all able to get involved in things that make us feel good.

For the past few years I have been working with Cirencester College, first as a board member on the Business Career Academy and more recently as a Governor (I know… bit grown up, isn’t it?). Last night was a chance to revisit the Career Academy and meet a few of the business brains of the future. I’m going to nail my colours to the mast here… I’m pretty sure I was never this good when I was 16!

The Academies at Cirencester College bring the worlds of business and education together through a powerful academic and vocational mix. In plain English, they combine academic learning with on-the-job skills and experience, valued by employers and universities. Employers influence and determine what the college offers and students are inspired by the opportunities available to them. The course is a heady mix of traditional teaching and employer-led projects, all leading towards formal qualification and (hopefully) better opportunities for both the students and industry as a whole.

Feedback from employers on the students that did internships this year include comment such as; “exceeded expectations” “a pleasure to work with” “100% professional” “a remarkably mature approach” “role model” “a credit to himself, his family and the College”.

Well, I can whole-heartedly agree with that. Last night was all about speed networking. Enough to put the fear of God into a seasoned business professional, my first ‘panic moment’ was when I arrived (late, as usual) to see a room full of slick, professional-looking faces… quickly realising that they were the students… ready and prepared to meet, greet and impress.

In four minutes bursts, students came to meet employer representatives, giving polished elevator pitches, firm handshakes, CVs and examples of their work. In many cases there was a seamless transition from academic fact-sharing through to personal chat and pertinent questioning. On one occasion it took me 3.5 minutes to realise that the person with which I was heatedly debating the difference between ‘business-people’ and ‘entrepreneurs’ was actually just 16 years old. Impressed? Doesn’t cover the half of it.

We all see headlines talking about falling grades, easier exams and a worsening employability rates… stories lamenting the ‘dumbing down’ of ‘youth’.  Of course, things are harder now than many of my generation experienced, but courses like this demonstrate the opportunities that can be presented by employers working hand in hand with educational establishments.  Colleges like Cirencester lead the way in preparing their students ambitiously and practically for the future… be that at Oxford, Cambridge or Durham (as many told me they were planning), on apprenticeship-type schemes at major organisations like KPMG or simply helping them to find a first foot on the employment ladder. Irrespective of the student’s background, by thinking creatively and practically, Cirencester are able to offer an education focused on developing the skills employers really want. The sense of ambition and drive that filled the room at Cirencester College, last night, couldn’t fail to impress and energise.

And yes… I handed out several business cards and would have hired two of them on the spot… had they not got more impressive plans afoot!

You can find out more about the Career Academies and Cirencester College here.