Work experience should count towards degrees: James Caan

Recruitment guru and BBC Dragon says that vocational skills are underrated.

The BBC Dragon and recruitment entrepreneur James Caan says work experience should count towards degrees, with students gaining extra marks from experience gained in the workplace.

Caan, who has a new book out this week called Get the Job You Really Want, was a late entrant to further education himself, graduating from Harvard Business School in 2003 although he started his first company in 1985. He had dropped out of school aged 16.

"I have found over the years that graduates can fill three pages with details of their dissertations yet tell prospective employers nothing about their practical experience," said Caan. "How does the employer know whether they have the discipline to turn up for work every day? Whether they can take on responsibility? Or whether they are prepared to knuckle down to a task?"

Caan added: "I was giving a talk at Cambridge University. There were 300 graduates in the room and I am sure many of them were sitting there thinking, 'I'd love to work for someone like James Caan'. Yet only a handful waited until the conference was finished and approached me directly. They were the few who had the confidence and the initiative to make their mark in the job market."

According to Caan, some universities are already considering methods of incorporating work and business skills in their degree programmes. Paul Jackson, director of student support and development at the University of Leicester, said the university is "looking closely at how to embed corporate skills into the curriculum at the undergraduate stage".

University College London (UCL) is believed to be looking at ways of translating job skills into degree credits and Durham University may also award additional marks for work experience.

Caan made his fortune after founding and subsequently selling the Alexander Mann recruitment company, also co-founding the headhunting firm Humana International, which he later sold. He called his first firm Alexander Mann to make it appear that there were at least two recruitment experts involved: Caan and the entirely fictitious Mann.

Speaking to the NS recently, Caan said: "While I was at Harvard Business School everyone kept talking about private equity, so I thought, 'I could do that.' " On his return to the UK he set up the private equity firm Hamilton Bradshaw, choosing the name almost randomly, he told us, "Because I wanted it to have a certain weight, and if anyone complained about something then I could tell them it was Hamilton or Bradshaw's fault."

Hamilton Bradshaw's investments now turn over more than £400m per year.

Caan also confided that, after he made no investments at all in the first week of Dragon's Den back in 2007, his wife urged him to take a stake in something, before people began to take him for being too risk-averse or even "a bit grumpy". He vowed to invest in the very next opportunity that came through the door, and that happened to be a firm making treadmills for dogs – Fit Fur Life.

Despite much ribbing from his rivals in Dragon's Den for investing £100,000 in the firm, he helped it triple its income in two years.

Jason Stamper is editor of Computer Business Review

Photo: Getty
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Jess Phillips's Diary: Lazy attacks on “lazy MPs”, and how to tackle the trolls

The Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley takes us through her week.

As parliament kicked us out for the conference recess season on 14 September, several tabloids run the predictable story: “MPs go back on holiday today only NINE days after returning to parliament from a six-week summer break.” I imagine the journalist who churns it out hates doing the same tired “all MPs are lazy baddies” shtick as much as we hate having to rebut the nonsense idea that we are on holiday when we are working full-time in our constituencies.

Legislation is on holiday, not legislators. I have still yet to find an MP who thinks it reasonable that parliament shuts for three weeks for conference season. Why can we not have these conferences at the weekend? Or during the summer recess? Hell, why do we have to have them so regularly at all?

Is the nation screaming out for the politically minded to spend hundreds of pounds sleeping on the floor of an overcrowded Airbnb in a seaside town after a heavy night on warm wine and small food? I’ll wager that you cannot find me a person on the Clapham omnibus – or frankly any omnibus, whatever an omnibus even is – who thinks we should have a week off making laws so that the Lib Dems can do karaoke.

Her Maj

As well as time off for conference, it seems that the Tories will be scurrying home early every Wednesday as well. They appear to be on strike from voting on any opposition day motions as their governing partners, Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, play fast and loose with their allegiances. (The DUP backed a Labour motion against raising tuition fees, which the government says is non-binding.)

I and other Labour MPs sat in parliament and watched ministerial cars speed off on 13 September as the whips told the great and good to go home. Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition is a pretty important part of our democracy. If I were Her Maj I might be more than a little peeved that Mrs May cannot be arsed to turn up to fight for what she believes in, whatever that is. Presumably whatever Boris Johnson and his gang say it is this week.

Leave the kids alone

I spent the weekend at a local Labour Party fundraiser, at my surgery, and handing out certificates to hundreds of young people graduating from the National Citizen Service. I sat in front of a lively, wildly diverse group of young people and thought we should hand over managing geopolitics to them for a while. Even the naughty kid at the back (whom I had to scold) gave me more faith than what I see on the news.

Family life

At a debate about the abuse of MPs, the traditional Tory colonel Bob Stewart told the house that his son had been targeted and isolated by his schoolteacher because his father was a Conservative MP.

Now, I’ve had my run-in ins with the colonel in the past, but I was horrified by this – one of my sons is the same age as his. As a parent and an MP I dread the idea that my choices will cause my sons’ grief. I’ve got enough guilt about leaving them half the week without their being targeted and bullied. I once found my son and his mates watching videos about me on YouTube that had been made by men’s rights activists. The vicious content was unsettling enough, but the thought of his teacher joining in the hate is harrowing (and, I’m pleased to say, completely unthinkable at his school). Our families are conscripts to this life – some are conscientious objectors.

Troll detection

So, should we ban internet trolls who abuse MPs online from voting? This is the suggestion floated by the Electoral Commission. I can see the argument for trying to make people treat the electoral system with respect. I also think we have got to have a hard line and a punishment. I’m just not sure how we will decide what is abuse. People say sexist stuff to me all the time. Would a negative comment about my appearance count, or are we talking rape and death threats? (What a time to be alive, when I can give a traffic light system to my sexist online abuse.) To some, the idea of having your vote taken away would only provoke a shrug; but to me it seems too much.

Climb every mountain

I have nearly finished More in Common by my friend Brendan Cox. It is about his late wife, my friend Jo, and is brilliant, but I dip in and out because I want it to last. Reading it makes me feel so tired: maybe because I read it in bed, but also because Jo’s energy and adventures seem exhausting. I like mountains on a screen saver, but I wouldn’t climb one, especially not with a tropical disease or a baby in my belly.

I’m also exhausted because of the ridiculous late nights we seem to be adopting in parliament. Jo’s distaste for the silly hours is covered in the book. She couldn’t understand why we couldn’t start earlier than 11.30am and finish in time for people to see their kids. As I put down the story of her life (and, my god, what a life) I’ll gladly trek for her to the seemingly impassable peak of reforming the voting hours in parliament. 

This article first appeared in the 21 September 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The revenge of the left