According to recent research from Google Campus the gloss is starting to fade on the younger generations’ perception of entrepreneur “rock stars”. Young people aged 15 to 18 now admit to being more risk adverse, with only 22% expressing an interest in starting their own business.
Perhaps the harsh realities of life kick in by the time they make it to University, as a separate survey from Rated People shows a 42% increase in undergraduate start-ups over the last twelve months, with the majority citing lack of job security as the prime motivator (61%), half looking to reduce their student debt, and a third liking the idea of being their own boss.
Whatever their perceptions, by the time they hit the workforce the likelihood is that half of those landing in the private sector in London will be on the payroll of SME or micro-businesses (perhaps founded by the geek they sat next to in lectures).
Whether they have the requisite skills to join that workforce is, of course, another debate, with 76% of employers in a British Chamber of Commerce survey in October 2014 reporting a lack of work experience as one of the key reasons young people are unprepared for work.
This statistic is not hard to believe when you consider that the exposure young people have to business is so limited.
After all, if you are a college looking for work experience opportunities or school visits to “the workplace” your first port of call is likely to be the large employer in town who has an HR department to take your call. That precludes most start-ups and SMEs from having a look-in.
The greatest influence on most young people’s experience of the world of start-up business is, sadly, reality TV. For the past ten years shows like The Apprentice and Dragons’ Den have fed a distorted and largely negative view of enterprise, painting an unrealistic perspective of what it takes to succeed in business and attract investment. The fact that both these shows have seen viewing numbers decline in recent years, with Dragons’ Den down almost a half to below three million, suggests that the public are tiring of an over-dramatised format that trades largely on conflict rather than collaboration. Personally, I’ve made my distaste for both programmes no secret and I would be delighted to see them leave the screen in favour of a more sympathetic and realistic format.
Young people need a more balanced view of what motivates people to start their own business, and better role models.
Firstly, not every business needs to or seeks to raise investment. Some grow organically, often trading off skills and contacts they may have brought from a previous career. Secondly, the start-up journey doesn’t just happen over a few days in London with a random team of colleagues whom you’ve had no say in choosing for your team and who are all competing for your job.
The best way to help young people explore what this world of enterprise is like is to give them the opportunity to see the journey for themselves, offering extended periods of contact with diverse entrepreneurs willing to shine a light on their world.
Hearing how they came to be where they are now may also just provide the context for learning that many young people fail to find in the classroom.
Bathtub 2 Boardroom is a charity that supports early stage start-ups with affordable workspace and support services designed to improve their chances of becoming sustainable businesses that create jobs for others.
We believe in the value of exposing young minds to the passion, commitment and creativity required to make that leap of faith and start a business from scratch. We witness this from our members on a daily basis, and it’s inspiring.
Being an entrepreneur requires boldness and a willingness to embrace failure. You rely on teamwork, tenacity and a shared vision to build something from nothing, usually during very stressful times. Young people could learn plenty from such role models.
We are proud to be pioneering our model of support with a partner in the Education market, Aspirations Academies Trust, building the first workspace community within an academy in North London (Tech City College).
This model will provide both social and professional opportunities for the students to meet with the entrepreneurs, to learn about their journey and to help act as problem solvers as part of project based learning that uses real world situations to develop essential employability skills.
Schools and colleges need to partner more effectively with employers to build bridges for young people that allow them to explore their future as productive adults. There is a role here that workspace providers such as Bathtub 2 Boardroom can play in providing access to those communities of smaller enterprises that typically fly below the Educator’s radar. Starting a business is inherently risky, but so is pinning your career hopes on a large employer.
Thinking like an entrepreneur is a skill we all need to succeed. We hope to inspire more young people to view the start-up world with less fear and more curiosity.