Less could become more in the world of employment

Big isn't always best when it comes to employers and job satisfaction.
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The Independent Online
FLEUR SEXTON so enjoys working for herself that she cannot understand why more graduates do not seek to follow her into running small businesses rather than taking the traditional route into large "blue chip" companies.

Mrs Sexton, who with her husband Chris set up Progressive Educational Tools (PET) 18 months ago, is simply passionate about the work. "It's a very privileged way to be in business," she told delegates at a conference organised by the Department for Education and Employment and the Shell Step programme, which organises work experience in small and medium-sized companies for students and graduates.

Mrs Sexton gave her talk at last week's event in London as part of a presentation in which Sandy Ogilvie, UK director of the community programme Shell Livewire, urged both students, and those advising them at universities and colleges, to consider working in smaller organisations as a response to the changing employment environment.

Mr Ogilvie, who has extensive experience of youth enterprise in the UK and overseas, explained to the audience drawn from higher education and business advice bodies, such as training and enterprise councils and business links, that - with large organizations continuing to contract at a time when the importance to the economy of smaller firms was growing - more needed to be done to alert graduates to the career possibilities beyond the large companies.

Surveys suggested increasing interest among students from a range of disciplines - besides the more usual fields of fashion and design - for going into business for themselves. But at the same time, it was clear that the education system tended to provide little information about how business or the economy worked, he added.

Mr Ogilvie was unsure about whether the best way of combating this was simply to update careers information or to carry out a more fundamental reappraisal of the way young graduates were prepared for life in a world of work.

"Running a business is not for everybody and is not necessarily a first job experience, but we believe considering creating and running their own business is a valuable exercise for far more graduates than currently have the option put before them," he said.

Some of the delegates taking part in the workshop that followed the presentation were concerned that people running small- and medium-sized businesses might feel threatened by the idea of employing graduates. Others were sceptical about the wisdom of promoting any career route over another, (even though it is widely accepted that the professions, the Civil Service and other traditional routes for high flyers are given great prominence in careers offices). But there was a general feeling that self-employment or working in smaller organizations deserved a place in the lists of career options that students and graduates should be encouraged to consider.

It was also pointed out that - at a time when change was commonplace - there was no reason why taking a job in a small firm should confine a graduate to that sector for ever.

Equally, graduates could start in a larger organization and - as many successful entrepreneurs have done - use the experience gained there to start their own business.

Indeed, Mrs Sexton began her career in teaching, and - since her business is in this area - she continues that activity as part of a portfolio career specifically to keep in touch with developments in the field.

But, as with many business start-ups, it is not just her past experience that is being pressed into use. Her husband's information technology expertise is also seen as crucial to the success of the computer discs that the company produces.

With the help of endorsements from the Football Association and individual football clubs, the company is winning plaudits for products designed to make learning enjoyable and is seeing revenues increase quickly.

But, as Mrs Sexton, a languages graduate, reminded her audience, the attraction of running a small company is that you see "business in the raw sense".

Stressing that this was the "most fulfilling way" she could imagine spending her life, she added: "You can't but succeed if you want to maintain your lifestyle."

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