Dragons’ Den star Hilary Devey: “The Conservative government thinks everybody’s been to Oxford”

Qualifications aren't everything says the outspoken businesswoman, whose new Channel 4 series The Intern aims to prove just that

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Hilary Devey says there is too much focus on academic qualifications in Britain and not enough opportunity for enthusiastic, hardworking young people who could shine given the right support.

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“At the moment we’ve got a Conservative government that thinks everybody’s been to Oxford – but they haven’t,” said Devey, who currently appears as an investor in BBC2’s Dragons’ Den. “There are kids that have had severely disadvantaged upbringings and education, and… we’ve got to find ways of nurturing those children and those young adults into employment.”

Devey was one of a number of celebrity business people who recently took part in Channel 4’s Hotel GB, which aimed to give unemployed youngsters skills that would help them find jobs. Her latest contribution to that cause is her own upcoming C4 series The Intern which will see her interviewing more young people before finding them placements with companies that would usually only accept graduates.

“What I want to do is to convey a message to all those kids out there that they don’t have to go to university, they don’t need a degree, they don’t need a strong series of A-levels,” Devey told an audience at the Cheltenham Literarture Festival. “What they need is tenacity, focus, personality, a bit of charisma and a bit of get-up-and-go, enthusiasm and motivation.”

Devey is the founder of multi-million-pound haulage logistics company Pall-Ex, which is currently expanding across Europe and beyond, but she started out at the tender age of seven working in her father’s businesses and suggests a focus on business skills in schools could help others follow in her footsteps. 

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“My father gave me the best education that anybody could have – by the age of 11 I could type, I could take dictation in shorthand, I could balance the books, I could produce a set of accounts,” said Devey. “So by the age of 12 or 13 I was capable of running a business, which is something that is not on the educational curriculum.”