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Stephen Fear: We need a national mentoring institute

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The founder and chairman of Fear Group and entrepreneur in residence at the British Library speaks out

This is an excerpt from Securing Britain’s Future – read the full publication online now:
London business leaders tackle skills gaps, leadership issues, youth unemployment and workplace diversity

MY KEY IDEA

The UK needs a cohesive mentoring programme led by a leading business or political figure whose job would be to link all the various existing groups together. An “institute for mentoring” would vet would-be mentors to make sure their skills are appropriate for the job in hand. Mentors with the right skills have a lot to offer fledgling and even mature businesses. Many enterprises get into financial trouble because their owners fail to seek help early enough. This idea is part of an initiative I am presenting to the government called “Stop the Casualties” – meaning business casualties, of course.

Mentoring schemes abound throughout the UK, US and Canada, as well as in many other English-speaking nations, but why do they matter? They matter because, with the right advice, people starting or growing a business can avoid early mistakes that threaten the survival of the enterprise during its early stages, when everything is so critical. The creation of new businesses is essential to any country, and the UK needs more and more people to set up businesses. After all, when they succeed, they become the employers of tomorrow.

We live in a fast-changing business environment, with technological innovations invented every moment. Some are game-changing and some are more pedestrian, but they all matter to the businessperson involved in moving his or her business forward.

Many of the mentoring schemes are focused on certain groups, such as young entrepreneurs or fledgling enterprises, but the most important ingredient in the mix is relevant and qualified advice. It is essential for entrepreneurs to get good advice from people who know what they are talking about, especially if they are paying for it. Poor advice can hold a business back or even kill it before it has a chance to develop its own identity.

I believe the government should bring in a proper vetting system for mentors in the form of a chartered institute of mentors, where suitably qualified and properly vetted people can offer their services. We would then feel safe in the knowledge that our young (and older) entrepreneurs seeking advice would be listening to someone qualified to give it.

Thus, for someone seeking to develop a business plan, the person offering advice would actually have produced one or, better still, many in the past. Sadly, this hasn’t always been always been the case. I came across someone offering business advice on the web and, intrigued by the claims, I investigated. I found a 21-year-old man from Watford who was working in a call centre after leaving full-time education. He was offering general business advice for £55 an hour, yet he had never run a business or even made an application for funding.

I have written to David Cameron asking that we create a national mentoring agency responsible for bringing all the schemes under one umbrella – not to be run by government but to be overseen by it. An entrepreneur seeking advice would feel confident in going to someone who is part of the scheme. This could be self-financing by nominal subscriptions from the various mentoring schemes, which would gain recognition.

We need a leader to oversee the implementation of this national mentoring body, which all genuine schemes would be encouraged to join. Many experienced businesspeople would like to get involved in helping younger businesses, and particularly younger people, to create and grow a business but just don’t know how to go about it. We need joined-up thinking on this hugely important issue. Someone needs to pull it all together.

Business is an important part of the fabric of society. Leaving it all to chance seems such a waste. Businesses that fail often do so needlessly, leaving families and even whole communities devastated. We could go some way to avoiding these dreadful consequences by implementing a proper national mentoring registration scheme that would benefit both entrepreneur and mentor.

This is an excerpt from Securing Britain’s Future – read the full publication online now:
London business leaders tackle skills gaps, leadership issues, youth unemployment and workplace diversity




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