Commercial awareness is the holy grail of employability skills for many companies. Many Times Top 100 firms outline commercial awareness as a necessary skill for their early stage intake, and students find demonstrating this skill notoriously difficult. You can help them with the concept of commercial awareness by creating opportunities during your lesson to learn about, identify and evidence the skill.
Ernst Young define commercial awareness (in this blog post) as “understanding the organisation and its role in business or industry on a local and / or global scale.” I would argue that it has further reaching implications. Students should have an interest in business. They should realise that businesses exist to make money. They should be aware of the basics of economics, of supply and demand, of pricing, of costs (including opportunity cost). They should also be aware of their place in the corporate hierarchy, and that by being employed, they have a requirement to “produce the goods”; to contribute to the organisation for which they are working. By merely being employed, they are costing their business money. Commercially aware students realise that they have to contribute more value than the money they cost the organisation in order to remain employed, or progress in the company.
You can create learning opportunities for commercial awareness in your lessons in the following ways: –
1) Relate learning to real world, commercial examples
Setting context to learning will enable your students to realise ‘the point’ of what they are learning. Pointing out how the day’s topic relates to an item of current interest will paint a wider picture for the student and get them to realise the impact of what they are doing. Teaching drama? Incorporate the reason why entertainment is a valuable commodity and why people pay money to be entertained. Discuss how the internet has opened up opportunities to generate audiences and money making opportunity. Teaching science? Show how the topic you are learning has led to innovation and commercial break throughs. Discuss the economics of innovation – great examples include how drugs companies invest so much into R & D and they have to make this back by extortionate pricing and rigorous protection of IP.
2) Provide choices
Lesson time is a valuable commodity. When nearing the exam period, provide students with the choice of activity for the day’s lesson. Explain to them that each decision has an opportunity cost: by choosing to pursue one topic, we are neglecting the other for today. What cost may that have further down the line? What if that topic commands more marks on an exam?
Also, let students choose between homework activities for the same reason. Outline the benefits of choosing either topic. Get students to write a brief statement at the end of their assignment why they chose this topic, and what they could’ve potentially missed out on by neglecting the other.
3) Practice goals and priorities on a regular basis
Part of your lesson planning will involve setting out learning objectives. Make these doubly explicit and state your reasoning. Tell students that, in any walk of life, it is important to have clear priorities and goals. Whilst working towards these as a group, introduce the concept that this is how businesses work: tell your students that companies have corporate objectives based on the time, resource and people they have available, and what they are trying to achieve as an organisation. Tell them that your learning objectives are determined by taking into account the time you gave available, the resources at your disposal and what you are trying to achieve as a group.
Better still (and this will be determined by time), how can you involve your students in the goal setting process? You could take a lesson right at the start of a new module. This may seem like a waste, but weigh up – would this one lesson lead to more focussed, better working students over the course of the topic? Would it save time by spending time up front? There’s a business decision to make…..
4) Assign responsibility for classroom resources
The resources you use in your lessons has a cost, including you, the electricity, the rent for the room, broadband bills, tuition fees for students, books, pens, paper, textbooks, etc etc. Why not cost out each lesson? Create a wall chart that shows the going rate for each of your lessons in a room, and display it prominently. At the end of each lesson, discuss whether the value derived from each lesson is greater than the cost of its delivery. Was the last hour worth it? If not, why not? What would you improve as a group? Where was the waste?
By getting students to think of the true cost of their time, and getting them to evaluate the value of something, they are thinking commercially. Not least, they may appreciate that it costs a lot of money for them to be there!
5) Encouragement for extra curricular activities
Extra curricular activities are now non-negotiables on a student CV. They are conspicuous by their absence. Commercial awareness is demonstrated particularly well by these activities. Encourage your students to volunteer for a position of responsibility at their local sports team. If they can be treasurer, or membership secretary, then great! Organising charity events can also be a great way to demonstrate commercial awareness. Get students to be in charge of the inventory for an event – be the buyer for a charity BBQ. Will you make more money than the event costs to organise? That’s the crux of commercial awareness.
Also, positions where a student leads or organises other people is a coup. People make organisations, so the better a student is with dealing with people, the more effective and commercially aware they’ll be. Ask them to volunteer in the student council, to organise a college event, or to volunteer and organise part of open evening.
You are most likely creating opportunities for skill development in your lessons already. The trick is to identify them explicitly. Students are notoriously bad at picking out the employability skills in tasks they already do. You can shine a light on these skills. Make this part of your every day teaching. Your lessons are much more than the grades a student gets at the end of their time with you. Learning is what happens during the journey, not at the destination. Make sure your journey is well signposted. Your students will recognise they’re learning a lot more than they realise.