How to make your own job

Take six unemployed women, a cube and a stop watch. Cayte Williams on a unique course teaching women how to create their own career opportunities
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Indy Lifestyle Online
We all know that working women are a growing band. Latest estimates predict that there will be 700,000 more women in the workforce by the year 2000, while the number of working men stays the same. But not all these women will be filling cream puffs for pounds 2.50 per hour in the new, "flexible" jobs market. Also forecast is an increase in the number of women's small businesses in virtually every sector. Now a unique course has been launched to help these would-be entrepreneurs.

The Women Returners Innovative and Entrepreneurial course starts in London next month. The course is unique in that it contains an introduction to Kubus, a system pioneered seven years ago in Denmark by Professor Henrik Herlau of the Copenhagen Business School. "The motto of the course is `making jobs, not seeking them'," he explains. Students are divided into groups of six (Kubus is Danish for cube), depending on their social background, work experience and professional skills. They are then asked to think about what each of them could contribute to a new business. For example, if a single mother, a book-keeper and a nanny were all on the course, it would be viable for them to pool their skills to set up a private creche facility. The single mum would have contacts, the book-keeper the financial skills and the nanny the professional skills to kick-start the business. Six areas of discussion and action are covered to reach business goals: open questions - deciding what kind of business to work towards; external data - what the market and the competition is; the team - who gets to do what; networks - what contacts are available for help, advice and business advantage; project resources - time limit, budget and office facilities, and documented knowledge - the keeping of log books to record and reflect on the group's progress. By the end of the course they would be expected to produce a business plan. "The first few weeks are often very tricky for new students, because the Kubus system is against the hierarchical pupil/teacher way of learning," explains Martin Guedella, a consultant for The London Management School and lecturer at Westminster University, who brought the Kubus system to the UK. "It's paramount that everyone contributes equally to discussions and takes equal responsibility for decisions made."

There are no leaders of each group, but there are co-ordinators who make sure that group decisions are acted upon. "Big ears, small mouths," explains Henrick, enigmatically. "If someone asks another to clarify what they've said, that person must accept it." A "Kubus monitor", a small square box with a built-in stop watch, shows a diagram of the six different areas of discussion. As each subject is addressed, the monitor lights up and the stopwatch starts. If someone wanders off the subject for too long, they are reminded what is being discussed by looking at the monitor. And if anyone talks for too long, another person can throw a dice to move the discussion

"Kubus is particularly good for women returners because everyone has to speak up," says Martin emphatically. "No one is allowed to just sit there taking notes in silence."

A pilot scheme was set up for women returners earlier this year at Westminster University. Celia Regan, also a former student, attended: "I had a fine art degree but didn't know what I wanted to do apart from a vague desire to work in the community," she explains. "The course gave me the confidence to set up an educational garden at a local school with their funding. I've already employed one person and I'm looking to the National Lottery and the Charities Board for funding for further projects." Other students have gone on to set up music sites on the World Wide Web or have got a foothold in consultancy work.

Phillip Chapman is a management consultant and a great believer in Kubus . "Large companies no longer have the old hierarchies of management like they used to," he explains. "Freelance teams are employed increasingly to come up with problem-solving ideas. The Kubus course enables people to have those ideas and reach decisions quickly - and to spot those people who talk for the sake of it."

Potential students for the new course are enthusiastic. Gina, a 35-year- old with a baby at home, wants to go on the course because "I can still pick my little boy up from the nursery while I'm working towards setting up my own business". Zhang Jingli, 36, is unemployed and wants to join up because: "I want to make a job rather than apply for one, something I've not had much luck with recently."

Information

The Women Returners Innovative and Entrepreneurial Course will be held from 2 December at the Crown & Manor Club, Wiltshire St, London N1 5DH and continues until the end of May 1997. It is free and there will be financial help towards child care and travel. The hours are 10am-2.30pm and the course is less than 16 hours a week so that those receiving benefits can still claim. The only requirement is that students have some work experience at a junior management level. For further details contact Shabman Ahmed or Jenny Hooper on 0171 911 5000 ext 3043 or 3023, or write into them c/o The Faculty of Business, Management and Social Studies, The University of Westminster, 35 Marylebone Road, London NW1 5LS, enclosing an A4 SAE.

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