Thinking global, living local: Voices in a globalized world

Youth entrepreneurship in the UK: Challenges and opportunities

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Youth unemployment

Youth unemployment. Photo by Ewgenija on WikiGender (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0).

Is entrepreneurship an answer to current job losses and economic difficulties? For those who always wanted to go “their own way” there’s no better time than now to become an entrepreneur. The United Kingdom offers a huge  variety of support schemes and mentoring schemes for aspiring young entrepreneurs.

There is a certain paradox in this country. The United Kingdom is the seventh biggest economy in the world and the third largest in the European Union. Although its golden age is gone, it is still a country which retains considerable political, economic and cultural influence internationally.

At the same time the future generation of this country does not appear to have bright prospects. According to the OECD about 21.9% of young Britons aged 15-24 are unemployed while the OECD average is 17.1%. The increase of tuition fees at English universities to £9,000 a year not only means fewer applicants, but also that we are rebuilding class systems where few are entitled to higher education and thus are able to improve their socioeconomic conditions.

Personally I am a final year student at a British university and at the moment I am facing a same question 300,000 graduates face each year: How will I find a job? In October we are starting our winter term but some if not most of The Times Top 100 Graduate Employers ended their recruitment processes in November 2012 for jobs starting in September 2013! We are apparently supposed to write our applications for next year before this term’s academic assignments or our dissertation proposal…

So what options do I have myself? I can either compete with thousands of other students for job offers or… I can create my own business. Is entrepreneurship an answer to young people’s job dilemmas?

Entrepreneurship and Youth

It is hard to estimate how many university or college graduates become self employed after they finish their education. The official university statistics take into account those who are “in employment,” “in further education,” or “other.” We do know that there are 4.8 million businesses in the UK and within that 99.9% are small and medium businesses (SMEs).

What does it actually mean to run your own business? I went to the Tata Social Enterprise Conference 2012 to find out. Liam Black, from Jamie Oliver’s famous Fifteen restaurant, said: it is “bloody hard work.” Running your business means acquiring more skills than in any other occupation. It means getting an idea, making it profitable, and making it happen. It means strategy, teamwork, managing money and having lots of confidence. It means a lot of effort and uncertainty over whether your business will work. It also means doing things you are unsure how to do. A person who is strong in leadership and teamwork might struggle with the accounting side of an enterprise. You might be a good organizer but not be able to complete forms to secure essential funding.

Basically running a business means working outside your comfort zone sometimes with little support and certainty for a secure future. That’s the nature of enterprise. But the rewards can be great – building your skills, your brand, and your confidence. However the most important thing is that running your business when there is very little alternative means being strong even when facing very difficult situations.

Opportunities, opportunities everyone!

What kind of support do young people have in starting a business? Since I returned to West Midlands I have had more opportunities to learn about self-employment than I could have imagined. In October anyone could for free go to Youth Enterprise Live in London and attend multiple workshops and sessions. Global Entrepreneurship Week is celebrated each November around the world and so it was this year in the UK as well. The Prince’s Trust Enterprise offers a program for unemployed young people to work if their business ideas are viable and if self-employment is right for them. Chambers of Commerce are present in most cities, offering their support as well. The European Union offers the Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs program which allows young people to go for a 6-12 month business exchange.

Most universities have entrepreneurship centers offering advice and mentoring to aspiring businesspeople. If one is a person of an ethnic minority background they offer support and guidance to members of their community. As a Polish citizen I found my own city had a business club which supports everyone interested in self-employment. It might be intimidating to be sometimes the youngest person among 30 and 40 year-olds, but people want to share their experiences and stories about how they have (or not) become successful. So why not to listen to them?

While at the Tata Conference, I was surprised to see that, though it gathered some of the best entrepreneurs in the country, the event was not fully booked. About 200 university students and graduates decided to come from all over the country (and some from abroad) and get all the knowledge they could. We were able to go into practical sessions where we worked on building social models (Tony Colville from the Young Foundation), talked about looking for funding (Jake Hayman, CEO of the Social Investment Consultancy), and went to the “Social Enterprise Marketplace” to with established social entrepreneurs and companies.

Does this means that I will go into entrepreneurship? Not straight away. Those opportunities are able to inspire, to give courage, and to support budding entrepreneurs. It also means that there is a plan B which gives you a lot of support if you decide to become self-employed. And in contrast to higher education this practical one is often free of charge.

Entrepreneurship: the only way?

It is unfair to label current young population as “lazy,” “uneducated,” or a “lost generation.” We are facing changes faster than any generation before. In the 22 years of my life I witnessed not only world events like attacks on World Trade Center, the Arab Spring or the Euro Crisis, but I also think about how all these impact on my life. As a young person I am certainly facing more obstacles than my parents.

Is becoming an entrepreneur an answer to the current market situation? Unfortunately when a student has very few options, becoming an entrepreneur is sometimes the only option. But looking at the other side of the coin – if you ever dreamed of taking the future into your hands – this is your chance.  In Britain you have a huge amount of support to start something you always dreamed of. You have absolutely nothing to lose… but lots to gain.

You can see videos of some of the speeches made during the Tata Social Enterprise Conference 2012 here.

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Dominika Kaczkowska Twitter: dominika_kaczko

Blogger for @FutureChall_org and Global Economic Summit 2013 #GES. Student for MA Eur Pub Affairs @MaastrichtU; completed her Bsc. @unibirmingham. Polish immigrant who lived in England, Germany and the Netherlands. Affiliated to @UpRisingYF, @KongresKobiet, @theRSAorg Follow @dominika_kaczko