Business exam fails to test bosses
Leaving Cert paper missed some key elements needed to run a business, write Roisin Burke and Nick Webb
Some of the students who sat last week's Leaving Cert business paper will head up Ireland's biggest companies and slickest start-ups in years to come. But perhaps not -- if they bothered to study for the exam.
We asked some pretty shrewd business people and entrepreneurs how the business paper and its teaching will have helped shape the minds of our future tycoons.
One of the country's best known entrepreneurs, the school dropout sold his Stockbyte company for more than €110m in 2006.
"I was reasonably impressed overall with the paper. However, it was a bit heavy on theory and legalities and light on creativity, innovation and testing students' understanding of business logic," he said.
He felt that there should have been some sort of "sanity test" for whether a business would work or not.
"Here is the sector, here are the costs and projected channels and sales -- do you believe there's a business here and how would you play with the elements to make it work?
"The applied business case study relating to RIM Ltd had questions that were far too basic and missing out on any element of sophistication or performance in marketing or sustainability in this business.
"Memorising the textbooks would give just too high a score to students who might have little understanding of how business really works," he added. Kennelly gave the test a C.
McCann Ericsson boss Orlaith Blaney is one of the key movers and shakers in the advertising sector. "Overall, an excellent paper. The questions are simple, clear and very pragmatic around the basics of doing business in Ireland, and cross a very in-depth range of issues, across both the public and private sector," she said.
"I liked both the simplicity and the clarity around the way that the questions are written. I am also glad to see business ethics covered as a question. Behaving with integrity and strong business ethics, for me, is critical in business and it is good to see it being covered in the paper," Blaney added.
"The range and depth of areas covered are very comprehensive. For some SMEs in the domestic Irish economy, dealing with the recession is extremely tough, and exploring what kinds of things SMEs are doing to try and manage costs would be interesting.
"The case study is good as it focuses on a positive: growth and a growth strategy. The other area which might push the paper for further relevance could be how the digital world is affecting Irish business." She scores the paper a B+.
"By having a very academic brain you could score very highly, but there's not much credit given for someone with business action, innovation skills, forward planning -- someone who's creative," according to former Munster and Ireland hooker turned sports consultant and manager Sheahan.
"I liked the practical skills section, and the good general knowledge required for the case study. Real-life things like the unfair dismissals act are included, which is good."
Given that business is about selling stuff to people, Sheahan is somewhat surprised at the absence of such a key part of making money.
"That should be an option -- have a practical exam where the candidate has to sell something."
Also, as more than 85 per cent of people in Ireland are employed by small- and medium-sized businesses, it seems somewhat odd to steer clear of start-ups.
"I'd love to see very simple stuff like write a business plan, write a marketing plan," he said. "And how to start a business, the A-Z of starting a business. To this day, they haven't really dealt with that.
"It's ticking a couple of boxes on general knowledge on business alright, but for preparing you for an SME or corporate environment, maybe not."
Sheahan suggests a more targeted approach to business rather than a one-size-fits-all approach for students. "One potential suggestion would be if you had two different paper options-- one for people that are more corporate inclined, covering board meetings, etc, and one for those who are more SME and start-up-oriented.
"I'd give it a C2. It suits someone who's academic, but the guy who'd buy and sell him in the real world might not do as well in the exam."
Sunday Indo Business