Today, there are more career options than ever before. With multiple higher education options, apprenticeship schemes and more support available to those looking to start their own business, there is a world of opportunity out there. As building a business seems increasingly popular and accessible, should we encourage children and young people to start their own businesses and, if so, when and how is the best way to do it?
Encouraging children to start their own business
There are loads of different things children can try out to get a taste of how business works. For very young children, this can simply start in and around the house – making things to trade or doing chores. Whilst this may not seem much of a business, there are lots of self-employed people who virtually do certain ‘chores’ for a living; when they have too many chores to do themselves, they employ someone to help them!
For primary school-aged children, learning basic business principles should work in conjunction with developing enterprising skills. Being positive, creative and resourceful play key roles in success as an entrepreneur and in other careers, so we should all try to improve the traits we regard as ‘enterprising’. Exactly how we might encourage young people to start their own business largely depends on the individual – how old are they, what are their interests, how much knowledge of the business world do they have already?
Of course, we could be talking about a teenager who has a business idea and is deciding whether to put more time and effort into their idea. Maybe they’re thinking about going to university but have already started a business and are unsure which path to pursue. These issues are in contrast to laying the foundations of an entrepreneurial career in a seven year old, but we could regard both as ‘encouraging’ them. There’s more on the topic of how to inspire enterprise in this post here.
But what about enterprise as a career?
Entrepreneurship as a career option
Children that grow up in an entrepreneurial environment are much more likely to see starting their own business or going self-employed as a viable career option. These individuals aside, however, the majority of young people have very little exposure to the world of business and it seems a risky, unknown option, especially if their peers are heading off to university and landing ‘secure’ jobs already.
During the final stages of a person’s education, whether this is the end of school or university, starting a business represents an unclear path to earning a living and generating independence. Pressure from peers, society and parents can all lead individuals to pursuing the path most walked, even if it does not really represent what they want or the biggest opportunity for them.
Having even the most basic introduction to business principles as a young person can make entrepreneurship seem far more accessible. Speaking to mentors, not just those who have already made their millions, but those who are working around the clock for startups or microbusinesses can provide a real insight into the world of a business person.
Work experience in a startup company is also a great way to see if entrepreneurship is the right career path. Experience at major companies does little to spark the imagination in terms of building a business or seeing the motivation and hard work of business owners.
Motivations for starting a business
Something else to consider when discussing a career in enterprise with children is that the motivations for starting businesses are numerous. It’s hardly ever purely about making lots of money. In fact, speak to most entrepreneurs and they’ll tell you that there are far easier ways of making money than starting a business!
Most businesses form because someone has an idea that solves a problem for people.
Others want control over the way they spend their time.
Some want to choose with whom they work.
For some, earning money for themselves as opposed to a company is more appealing.
Creating a lifestyle that gives them the freedom to travel and work as they choose.
There is a small proportion of people who start a business because they want to make a serious amount of money. Far from ‘making a fast buck’ these businesses tend to take a lot of time and require huge commitment in terms of financial investment, risk and trust in a team of individuals. Shows like The Apprentice and Dragons’ Den sometimes skew the impression of businesspeople because so much of these shows focus on the money-making element.
Something important to bear in mind is the responsibility of encouraging entrepreneurship as a career choice. Should schools be doing more to instil enterprising traits, or perhaps universities? Education aside, should parents or even government organisations be responsible for inspiring and empowering young entrepreneurs? Should entrepreneurship be left solely to the young person themselves? After all, it’s their future, their career and, ultimately, their choice.
What we do know is that if children and young adults are left to their own devices, they are most likely to follow conventions of society, especially if they don’t have an entrepreneurial role model in their family. Whilst we could say, “let them get on with it”, we will fail to break cycles of unemployment and the social immobility still prevalent in the UK in this way, besides not benefiting from the wealth and jobs new businesses generate.
Understanding the multiple reasons people eventually decide to start their own business and giving young people some exposure of the startup world is the perfect way to encourage them to start a business or, at least, demonstrate it as a genuine career option.