Forget the made-for-TV nonsense, the race is on to find real apprentices

DAVID Willetts, the minister for universities and higher education, courted controversy when he suggested that graduates should consider starting a business if they were struggling to find work. But some of the City’s finest took this to heart and cooked up an idea to boost Britain’s entrepreneurial spirit and give the UK’s best and brightest youngsters entrepreneurial training.

The hope is that the scheme – run by the New Entrepreneurs Foundation, a new registered charity – will churn out the next Sir Richard Branson, Luke Johnson or Charles Dunstone.

The programme will place 25 young people with a chief executive (CEO) of a fast-growing small or medium-sized enterprise (SME) for a year (details in the box below). They will be mentored by that CEO, salaried and given additional training from Deloitte, London Business School and Cambridge’s Judge Business School in business finance, strategy and management alongside their internship.

The programme came together because Oliver Pawle, chairman of Korn Ferry Whitehead Mann, Sir Nigel Rudd, chairman of Invensys and BAA, Lord Davies of Abersoch, the former trade minister and Standard Chartered chairman and Dee Stirling of Dee Stirling coaching persuaded dozens of corporations to support the scheme. Deloitte, 3i and McKinsey are among the supporters who have pledged to fund the scheme.

Sir Nigel Rudd says that now is the right time to launch the scheme: “Entrepreneurism is more important now than ever. Interestingly, more new ventures tend to be started in a downturn than in a boom, and we want to ensure that aspiring business leaders are equipped with the skills and contacts they need to make such ventures successful.”

And it seems he is thinking what David Cameron is thinking. Last week Cameron threw his weight behind the StartUp Britain campaign to encourage and support British entrepreneurs.

The programme on offer hopes that its “on the job” training will provide the kind of knowledge, skills and contacts that the StartUp Britain campaign advocates. Lord Davies says he thinks it will give the successful candidates a headstart: “Often young people may have the incentive to start their own venture but not have the knowledge or tools to realise it.”

Pawle says they want to appeal to City workers: “Smart young people who have found they are not enjoying their jobs and would prefer to be out there running their own business would be ideal applicants.”

Young people reading this should consider taking up Willetts on his challenge. After all, the opportunity has arisen.

FACTS | THE APPRENTICESHIPS

Some of the companies already committed to taking an intern:

LiveEx, specialist internet wine business

London Advertising, a fast-growing advertising agency

Better Capital, specialist private equity company

2 Sisters Food Group, fast-growing specialist food group

White Bear Yard, early stage technology investor

Pi Capital, an investor network

Groupon, online discount payments system

YouGov, research and polling company

PKR, online gambling

TravelEx, a wholesale foreign exchange company

LBR International, digital marketing company

Programme: The programme is 12 months long, pays £20K in London, £14K elsewhere, and requires the candidate’s full-time commitment. Successful candidates will be placed with the founder or CEO?of a small or medium-sized enterprise as their assistant. Deloitte, London Business School and Judge Business School will provide additional training throughout the year in areas such as business finance, strategy and management.

Selection: The programme is open to final year students, recent graduates and non-graduates who can demonstrate a keen interest in becoming a successful entrepreneur. The judges are looking for 25 candidates with drive and ambition. Technology skills and experience of starting a business at school or university will be advantageous.

Further details: To apply visit www.newentrepreneursfoundation.com. The closing date is 12pm on 15 April 2011