Coronavirus fuels demand for TEFL courses developed in Scotland

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Name: Jennifer MacKenzie.

Age: 49.

What is your business called?

The TEFL org.

Where is it based?

Our office is in Inverness with team members in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Madrid. We’ve been working from home since March 2020.

What does it produce, what services does it offer?

We offer accredited and internationally- recognised classroom and online courses in teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL).

To whom does it sell?

Customers all over the world. Anyone who has native or near-native level English can take our courses. We started in Scotland in 2008 and now sell internationally online, with the USA being our largest growth market.

What is its turnover?

Over £4 million in the last financial year.

The demand for TEFL qualifications has risen exponentially over the last 11 months. We were on a good growth curve from the beginning of the year in 2020 at about 33 per cent. April, following the onset of lockdown in the UK and across the world, saw sales shoot up year on year, for that month, by 143%. Although people have not, on the whole, been able to travel, online learning has increased everywhere. Many, many people are now teaching and learning online. Many people want to live and work abroad eventually and gaining a TEFL qualification is one of the main ways of being able to do this.

However, Brexit has made the opportunities for UK citizens more constrained. Losing freedom of movement is a negative for those looking to teach English abroad. It puts UK citizens at a disadvantage compared to their Irish counterparts and on a par with US citizens where before they were looked on more positively by European employers due to the lack of paperwork.

Currently, for most countries in the world, you need to get a visa to live and work there. Unfortunately, this is what will probably now happen for UK citizens looking to live and work in the EU. Instead of being able to go out and find a job in the EU country of a person’s choice they will (most likely) have to have a position lined up before they go. None of this is overly difficult but it is time-consuming and likely to cost more.

How many employees?

We have 16 full-time currently and are looking to take on at least two more into our marketing team in the next couple of months.

When was it formed?

October 2008, in a shed in our back garden in Beauly in the Highlands.

Why did you take the plunge?

My business partner Joe and I had both worked as TEFL teachers in Greece back in the 90s. In fact, that’s where we met. We later taught in France before returning to the UK with our two small sons. We had a fantastic experience; learnt many life skills, discovered different cultures and made friends from all over the world.

Previously you had to take a four-week full-time course, meaning you had to give up your job or use up all your annual leave just to do the training. That just wasn’t and isn’t financially viable for most people. We felt that online, weekend and flexible learning would give many more people the opportunity to train to teach English abroad.

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

After we moved back to the UK I became a manager in the DWP in Yorkshire before moving back into TEFL again. We were there for several years before deciding to pack up our life in Yorkshire and head north with our young family (now numbering three) to the Highlands where I was originally from. We took with us the idea of setting up our own TEFL training company so people could learn to teach, from teachers; from people who really had ‘been there and done it’.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?

I genuinely enjoy the fact that we are empowering people to have the chance to make different choices from the routine, ‘go to school, leave school, go to university, get a job, get a mortgage’ basically living the same old nine-to-five. Living and working abroad really gives you the chance to experience different cultures, beliefs and importantly food! It brings a great range of transferable skills that you can use when – or if – you return to the UK. TEFL is not only about the teachers: It’s about the difference you as a teacher can make to another’s life.

I also enjoy the opportunity being a business owner has given me to be active in areas that are important to me. I became a Women’s Enterprise Scotland (WES) Ambassador in February 2019. Promoting women in entrepreneurship and business is something close to my heart after having been on the journey of growing a firm. I want to encourage and support other women who are starting out.

What are your ambitions for the firm?

I want us to be the number one TEFL training organisation in the world.

What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that would help?

Negotiate as frictionless access as possible to work opportunities in the EU for UK citizens.

What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?

That you will make many, many mistakes; that the buck stops with you; and that you have to pick yourself up and just get back into the fray.

How do you relax?

Walking my dog on the beach, spending time with my kids, and, like many at the moment, by bingeing on tv programmes! A resolution for this year/lockdown though is to read more.

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