I remember the shock of my first formal job interview. I was fired with questions about leading a team, showing my initiative, resolving disputes – and my mind went completely blank. Looking back, it had never occurred to me to examine my life in this way, to slot my experiences into skills-sets and competencies which I could tick off in an interview. I wanted the job – I believed I could do it well – but I didn’t have the right language or know-how to get this message across. Many young people are faced with a similar paradox: you need a job to get the experience, but you need the experience to get the job.
Stepping into the world of work can often feel like a leap into the unknown – brace yourself, run fast, and hope you land on your feet. The uncertainty of this transition, plus the stress of searching for jobs, facing rejection and adapting to unfamiliar work environments, can lead to a great deal of anxiety and self-doubt. In the current economic climate, the period of transition into employment seems to be lengthening. Widespread unemployment and a toughening job market have left many young people with a long-term uncertainty about their futures.
What’s more, young people are increasingly aware of the paradoxes in the pathways promoted to them. Life is mapped out as a series of hurdles, but the ultimate goal remains unclear. Ace your exams, but remember, good grades are not enough to get you the job. Go to university, but remember, you will need to pay three times as much. Graduate with a good degree, but remember, there are not enough places for you in the workforce. The spoken word artist, Suli Breaks, sums up this feeling up as ‘test us with tests, but finals are not final, because they never prepare us for the biggest test, which is survival.’
The youth sector aims to equip young people with a different set of tools – tools for life – will prepare them for the challenges ahead. Many youth practitioners would agree, a list of prescriptions or warnings – ‘do this’, ‘don’t do that’ – aren’t the most effective tools the sector has to offer. If young people are to determine the direction of their own futures, these tools need to come from young people themselves.
At Enabling Enterprise, we believe entrepreneurship can provide a space for young people to stand up and take ownership over the ideas, talents and skills, which will guide them in their next steps. By setting up and running their own projects, with the potential for real and meaningful impact, young people have the opportunity to take the lead and come up with creative solutions to the problems which matter to them. Whilst running our Social Entrepreneur Challenge, I have seen students from 11 to 18 come up with ingenious initiatives to help their local community, using talents and skills which are entirely their own. All we do is set the challenge and provide a structure to help guide them – the young people create the opportunities.
Entrepreneurship is more than an activity, it is also an approach. By empowering young people to harness their own resources, entrepreneurship can provide a fruitful model for practitioners seeking to support young people in their transitions to employment. No matter what path you take, the skills involved in setting up an enterprise – whether managing a team, developing ideas, or presenting before an audience – can become essential tools for future working life. More crucially, the challenges faced by young entrepreneurs are similar to those of young job-seekers – both must experiment, adapt and remain resilient in order to reach their goal. The increasing number of youth organisations involved in entrepreneurship initiatives, such as Global Entrepreneurship Week, is a sign of how impactful an entrepreneurial approach can be.
Through entrepreneurship, young people can gain direct ownership over their achievements, as well as the challenges they have overcome. In a climate where many young people feel affected by circumstances beyond their control, encouraging a sense of ownership is vital. The journey ahead will not be easy, but by encouraging participation, skills development and youth-leadership, we can be confident that young people will take the future back into their own hands.