Exploring the perceptions and value of the Field Study Programme for small business owners on their human capital development
The South African government is promoting Small, Micro- and Medium-Scale Enterprises (SMMEs) as a key strategy for job creation, economic growth for poverty alleviation and a reduction in inequalities. The sustainable development of small businesses is therefore seen as the antidote for high levels of unemployment and poverty alleviation. Academics and policy makers agree that entrepreneurs, and the new businesses they establish, play a critical role in the development and well-being of their societies. If South Africa is to overcome its pressing challenges of unemployment and poverty, it urgently needs to become a more entrepreneurial society. The Field Study Programme (FSP) initiated by the Tertiary School in Business Administration (TSiBA) in South Africa, and the Northeastern University (NU) in Boston, United States of America, aims to guide and support small business owners. The goal of the FSP was, therefore, to support small business owners to improve their understanding of managing their small business and their competency in finding innovative solutions to their current market challenges. Since the inception of the FSP at TSiBA in 2008, very little research has been undertaken to understand the value and benefits of the FSP from the perspective of community small business owners over the past seven (7) years. This study explored the perceptions and experiences of small business owners and the value of the FSP towards their small business venture to assist business schools and higher education institutions to execute FSP’s with greater success and impact. In terms of the FSP, local and international business students acted as ‘consultants’ applying their respective academic knowledge and skills to assist small business owners to adapt their business model to sustain their livelihoods. The major purpose of the FSP was for students to consult with participants regarding their needs or challenges and to transform their needs and challenges through practical intervention towards meaningful and sustainable solutions which are mutually beneficial for all parties involved. The FSP attempted to demonstrate how a joint service-learning and social entrepreneurship approach could contribute to improving the human capital of small business owners. The study applied a qualitative research approach to explore the experiences and perceptions of small business owners who participated in the FSP. Purposive sampling was used to acquire information from small business owners. In this study twenty (20), participants were chosen on the basis that they had run their own small businesses at the time of being selected for the FSP for more than 6-12 months. The FSP was conducted over a seven-month period from February 2014 to August 2014. The qualitative research instruments for this study were pre- and post-interviews with individuals and focus-group discussions. Tape recorded data was transcribed verbatim for each pre-and post-interview with individuals and focus group discussions. The researcher analysed the transcripts using thematic analysis. The study highlighted the following findings: A majority of participants reported a positive experience and satisfaction with their participation in the FSP. Most of the participants felt that the solutions presented had contributed to addressing their challenges and influenced the ongoing operations of their small business venture. It was perceived that a combined service-learning and social entrepreneurship approach to FSP could improve community outreach programs. Despite the positive feedback, more must be done to incorporate black small-businesses into the main economy. A further recommendation is that a more integrated approach is needed between small business owners and students to join forces and provide solutions and relevant skills-training once the FSP has been completed.