Forecasting expenses, managing colleagues and turning a profit are some of the everyday business challenges that 19 Matraville Sports High School students have learnt how to manage thanks to the illuminate:nextgen Challenge.
“I’d never really thought about business at all before the challenge,” Faith says. “Now I’m actually considering creating a business. I’m just not sure what yet.”
Faith Kaivananga is a year 8 student and co-founder of the Caravan of Courage – a business concept where trained health and social workers are sent out in fully-equipped vehicles to areas with high homeless rates.
Faith developed her socially responsible business idea as part of the illuminate:nextgen Challenge – an exciting initiative presented by illuminate Education in partnership with Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand.
The challenge gives students the unique opportunity to learn about business with an experiential approach. Students aim to build their very own ethical business with a sustainable financial future over the course of only one week.
Matraville Sports High took part in the Challenge for the first time this year, where students from years 7 to 9 were required to meet deadlines and deliver a final business pitch, which they delivered to an audience at the closing presentation.
This is the type of thinking that Matraville Sports Principal Nerida Walker wants to instill in her students.
Nerida says the challenge gives students autonomy with structure, enforced by strict deadlines throughout the week. These milestones provide students with direction while still allowing them to make business decisions on their own – without teacher input. This allowed students to “fly” stimulating creative ideas and empowering students to identify which parts of business appeal most to them.
Daniel Matakaiongo and David Fonokalafi, two year 8 and 9 students, both promising rugby league players, who also identified a shared interest in the numbers side of business planning. Throughout the week they took part in producing the financial tables for their respective business plans, including expenses and forecasting to stay positive for profit.
Year 8 student Cianna Walker also discovered a passion for product design while developing her business plan for Shine A Light, a foundation that trades glow-in-the-dark products and hosts events to raise money for mental health.
“I really liked making the products. We had mugs and pens and t-shirts, all printed with our logo on the products to showcase at our trade display. I also found it really fun telling people about the idea,” Cianna says.
Identifying personal strengths in a business context can take students a step closer to choosing a suitable career path. Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) Coordinator Tamara Amatto says she witnessed a true transformation in her students over the week.
Staff were on-hand to guide students though this was rarely necessary as Tamara says the student groups were working well together.
“Over time we saw kids really change. Some took leadership of their groups, others who were really quiet and reserved came out of their skin,” says Tamara. “They decided to stand up and give their pitch and contribute, so we saw a real confidence boost within the kids.”
Building workplace confidence comes from developing interpersonal awareness – or ‘soft skills‘ – which are essential qualities for employees today.
Zoe Cass is another year 8 student who founded Growgress, a business idea for a homeless shelter that goes “beyond food and water” by fostering people over a short period to give them the training and life skills to get back on their feet.
A prominent public speaker at Matraville Sports, Zoe had no issues pitching her concept but did find herself learning how to set deadlines and move her team towards a single goal.
“I struggled to say ‘no’ to people in the beginning,” says Zoe. “If someone wasn’t doing their job, I had to learn how to tell them ‘you need to help us work.'” Similarly, year 9 student Jamie-Lee Rooke says she enjoyed being team leader of her group, but had to learn how to deal with pressure and time management.
Developing these types of skills and exposing students to a business environment are essential experiences for students to understand their options after school, says Principal Nerida.
Matraville Sports is keen to take part in the challenge again after receiving positive feedback from teachers, students and parents at the concluding market night.
Community Liaison Officer Marie Catalan who acted as a guide for students throughout the week, wants to see the challenge opened to schools throughout the Sydney catchment area. She reassures teachers that the rewards of the challenge outweigh the time spent away from the classroom, and suggests they see these benefits for themselves.
“Be a part of it. I’ve experienced it, but don’t take my word for it. Come up, sit with the kids, and be involved.”