By Abdul Aziz
Neither show needs an introduction. Aired on the BBC in 2005 for the first time, both shows have proved hugely popular. Though Dragons’ Den aired slightly before The Apprentice, the latter show is the more popular one. Dragons’ Den has managed to consistently attract around 3.5 million viewers. The Apprentice, meanwhile, is able to attract more than double that; in 2009 it attracted 8.1 million – its peak viewership, and currently attracts a viewership of 7.8 million. To put things into perspective, that equates to over 10% of this country’s population watching the show.
This begs the question, just why are these programmes so popular?
There are two important commonalities between these shows: first, they are based on business, and second, they are based on real people. Both of these shows have the ability to change the lives of would-be entrepreneurs virtually overnight.
It is probably fair to say that everyone aims for success, albeit with differing conceptions of what it entails. Success in the conventional sense might take the following itinerary: a young person completes his or her A–levels with good grades, gets accepted into a ‘redbrick’ university, obtains a 2:1 (or higher) degree and then gets a graduate job in the desired field with a multinational company paying an above-average salary. It is also probably fair to say that such a notion of success is institutionalised in the way many of us now assess success. Whilst I do not wish to upset this status-quo, it has to be acknowledged that success can be achieved in different ways- with equal validity. Entrepreneurship is one of those ways. The conventional route to success described earlier is not accessible to everyone for a number of reasons: academia is simply not for everyone. Near prohibitive costs associated with higher education aside, academia necessitates immersion in often abstract topics, which are difficult to relate to in reality. For those who are better with practical endeavours, sustaining interest and motivation in an academic context for three years is not always realistic.
Governments, past and present, have made efforts to make our country conducive to enterprise. In 2010 David Cameron pledged to make the next decade “the most entrepreneurial and dynamic in our history”. If the government reneges on this promise, it will have let down an entire generation. The recession has accentuated the difficulties young people have in securing themselves a prosperous future; the jobs market has collapsed and apprenticeships opportunities are also harder to secure. Cameron’s pledge, if fulfilled, will provide an alternative to young people who wish to work hard to become successful. We live at a time where the value of university education is no longer conspicuous. It could be argued that the sheer number of degree programmes available to study, including so-called ‘soft subjects’ such as media and photography, dilute the very purpose and value of producing graduates. A fact not up for debate, however, is that university fees have increased drastically since the start of the decade. It is little wonder, then, that going into business is an appealing option for many. The Apprentice and Dragons’ Den both show us that to be successful in a business endeavour is no easy feat. It requires dedication, hard work, persistence and an ability to solve problems. Incidentally, higher education also requires an application of these qualities. Therefore, entrepreneurship allows those who are often less inclined to academia for whatever reason, to realise, practise and further their potential. It is a platform for non-academic creativity and ingenuity that benefits the wider society. Entrepreneurship remains an option open to those that wish to take it and is rightly seen as an avenue to success. From Duncan Bannatyne to Surinder Arora, exemplars glitter the business literature, providing motivation and inspiration. Crucially, such figures show us that barriers are not always insurmountable, and that success awaits those who work hard.
In many ways, it doesn’t matter which show deserves to be credited with the continued rise of entrepreneurship. The fact is, being an entrepreneur calls on skills that many of us believe we have. These skills do not need to be validated by an education system. And truth to be told, many of these skills are not, and will not be, learned in schools or universities. For millions of people across the country, being an entrepreneur is the passport to success, which is otherwise unattainable through conventional systems. It would seem, therefore, that there is, and has always been, an impalpable appetite for business-based programmes that are accessible to the general public. So perhaps it’s not a case of The Apprentice or Dragons’ Den popularising entrepreneurship, but rather, entrepreneurship popularising The Apprentice and Dragons’ Den. I’ve never been good at answering the question about whether the chicken or egg came first, but by all means, feel free to answer this one.
Abdul Aziz is a teacher of Geography in a London school. He is currently pursuing an MA in Geography Education. He also maintains his own blog about learning and teaching themed around Geography.
Photo Credits - BBC
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