Preparation 1: Company with a problem or challenge


Many SME’s struggle with problems or challenges they find difficult to solve. Problems may range from the everyday issues, such as ‘My workforce is not reliable’ or ‘My sales are dropping’ to more strategic challenges, for example: ‘I want to expand my business’ or ‘My business needs to become more environmentally sustainable’. Each of these problems are difficult because they do not have a single possible solution. We call them Wicked problems (Riddle and Webber, 1973).

Your first step is to find a company to share with you and your students a difficult challenge or problem they have, so that your students will learn first-hand about real-world problems. Highlight the mutual benefits for the company, which is fresh and unusual ideas, as well as scouting new talent. For the student, the benefits are gaining new skills directly applicable to employment, experiences to add to the CV’s as well as to be used in interviews.

You need


  • Good relations and/or contacts with local SME’s


  • Alt: A broker/intermediary to connect you to SME’s (such as Entrepreneurship Institute, Chamber of Commerce, Employability experts at organizations, etc. )

Time: 2-8 weeks


  1. Approach several companies and gauge their interest to collaborate with students in a workshop on tackling one of the company’s problems. Discuss potential benefits with companies, such as scouting talent, receiving solution ideas, new and different perspectives and approaches, all ‘for free’ or at a cost of a few hours of their time. 

  2. Approach students with the opportunity to take part in a workshop with companies to boost their employability sills, gain experience to put onto their CV or even gain an internship/job.

  3. Once a company has agreed to participate, ask them to fill in a problem sheet (see workshop resources). Tell them that they will be asked to talk about their problem to the students. They should be prepared to attend the entire workshop session and give feedback on the problem as well as ideas worked up by the participants.

  4. Send the problem sheet to all participants in advance.

  5. Ask the company to bring examples of their work/products/business.

Potential limitations or challenges:

Business owners are busy. Nominate an emergency contact who could represent the company in case the main contact might become tied up with other business at the day of the workshop.


See Company problem sheet resource.

Associated training activity

Look at the example Company problem sheet. 

In your peer group discuss 5W1H:

  • Who has the problem and who is affected by the problem.
  • When the problem occurs and when not.
  • Where the problem comes to the fore.
  • What the problem is and if there are related problems.
  • Why the problem exists.
  • How the problem arises, and how it has been addressed before, if at all.

Identify and note down 3 companies that you could approach to ask to share a problem or challenge with you.

Advanced training

Set up a Bank of Problems by capturing case studies from your workshops.

Each case study should contain:

  • Basic descriptive information (company, location, size, etc.)
  • Company description of problem
  • Teacher thoughts on problem 
  • What came out of problem interview (see ‘On the day 4’ activity)
  • What responses to the problem students have come up with
  • Reflection on the quality of the problem and what type of learning it led to

Last modified: Wednesday, 26 Feb 2020, 16:26