Youth Entrepreneurship – The future force for good?

Zoë Hanks MSc, Managing Director, Grassroots Ideas Ltd. is our newest leader writer and we are delighted to welcome Zoë on board!.

Grassroots Ideas are a vibrant and passionate ethical communications and branding agency who are strong advocates of a more socially responsible way of thinking.

Zoë’s background in international Marketing, Branding, Communications and PR – along with her ‘glass half full‘ attitude to life and good sense of fun – delivers real tangible results to the businesses and individuals she works with.

This month Zoë, in line with our investigation into Social Enterprise, looks at Youth Entrepreneurship.

When I was 14, I had zero clue what I wanted to do with my life. I certainly didn’t know what career I wanted to follow. All I knew is that I was destined for bigger things, I just wasn’t sure how to get there.

The sum total of my careers advice was “there is plenty of shop-work available for you Zoë”. Full stop. I kid you not. The irony is that advice came from someone who is still in the same job as a careers advisor some twenty years later, but that’s a different story… My ‘work experience‘ (and I use that term in its loosest sense) was in a factory, typing out (on an electronic type-writer no less) several hundred ‘Certificates of Conformity‘. To this day I can still tell you the exact words I had to type on each and every one. But where did that really get me? Did it enlighten me in my quest for the perfect job? Did it provide me with insights into the workings of the commercial world? Well, what do you think?…

Let’s not be all doom and gloom though. Shortly after that, at the age of 19, I spread my wings and moved out to Dubai where I stayed for 6 years. I consider myself lucky – I have enjoyed an amazing career and all the trappings that go with that – I’ve travelled the world, lived and worked abroad and gained experience with some of the worlds leading brands. But I can’t help but think I could have got to where I am now a whole lot quicker had someone inspired me at an earlier age.

So what would I do differently?
First and foremost, sack the careers advisor. OK, so that’s partly based on my personal feelings, but in all seriousness – what part are they playing in inspiring a future generation of entrepreneurs – the people that will be running this country in 30 years time? I would like to say that careers advice has been revolutionised within the last 20 years, but sadly, as far as I can see that’s just not the case. Amazingly, the only difference is that it’s now computerised. I know of a highly creative and talented 15 year old who is outgoing and very driven, who was advised that the ideal job for her would be a Gas Engineer. One can only assume this is because she likes a good cuppa and can talk the hind legs off a donkey – but who knows?

Students would get far more value out of having real life examples of people who have gone out in the world, found their own way, and made a success out of it (even with a few failures, dead-ends and U-turns along the way) – in whatever form that may take. It would be great to introduce weekly careers sessions from the start of High School (not just when students are nearing the end), and expose students to the vast and amazing careers choices that are open to them today introduced to them by the people who are passionate about those roles – the people who are in them! That way they can be clear on what they are aiming for and how they can get there. Or at least they will know what they don’t want to do – which is just as valuable.

Secondly, the whole ‘work experience’ concept is just crying out for radical reform. No longer should it be acceptable to get the work experience student to make the tea all week, or do the photocopying, or wash the bosses car (yes that actually happens!). Instead, youngsters should get hand-on experience in the inner-workings of a business, as if they were an actual employee. Get them in front of clients, really make them understand what the core of the business is all about, make a decision if that job is really for them. Here at Grassroots Ideas, we are passionate about inspiring future generations of entrepreneurs, and regularly go into schools, colleges and universities to speak to students.

We have recently joined the ‘Work Experience to Work Inspiration‘ campaign launched by Business in The Community, backed by the likes of Marks & Spencer, BT and CapGemini to name but a few.

The campaign is based on three insights :-

1. Get to know me – students want to be given advice and guidance based on what they want out of life, and that involves getting to know what makes them tick and why. It’s not longer just about ‘skill matching‘.
2. Bring it to life – by making their time in the workplace meaningful and interesting, they are able to learn exactly what it would be like to work in this job on a day-to-day basis – rather than just experiencing a snapshot.
3. Take me on a journey – students want to see how people in their ideal jobs have got there. What qualifications do they have? What work experience? What key skills are required? This gives them ideas of how they can get to where they want to be.

It’s a great programme, and if every company in Britain signed up to take just one student through the work inspiration programme – we would really be able to make a difference to the future. Find out more at http://www.workinspiration.com/

For me, I would love to get younger people involved in social entrepreneurship – getting them to step-up in order to make a real difference. We are lucky enough in this country to have the Young Enterprise programme – which takes students through the process of running their own business and culminates in regional and national awards. Sadly though, it’s a certain ‘type’ of student that signs up for this, and I fear that we are losing a large portion of the young by not giving them anything they feel they can be included in. Perhaps if Social Entrepreneurship was incorporated into the curriculum in all high schools then once they all get out into the big bad world, doing positive things with their time will be second nature to them.

I think it’s really important to inspire young people to make a difference for several reasons…
Risk Takers. Youngsters are generally comfortable with taking risks. They always want to push the limits and boundaries-whether in the home, in the school or in society. Imagine if they expended their energy on a world-changing activity and opportunity?

Energy – With youth comes strength and energy. Let’s try and channel this energy into positive change so that they can really make an impact.

Passion – Social entrepreneurship is not motivated by money or profit. Its driven by the desire to make the world a better place. Often, charities and not-for-profit organisations go for the traditional approach to fundraising, but with the passion of young people – they could come up with some fantastic new ideas and put them into practice.

Technically savvy – Very few teenagers are without the internet, phones and computers – and all know about the latest fads and gadgets. They generally integrate these into their everyday lives – so why not get them to use them for positive activities? No responsibilities. Most youngsters are pretty carefree and without responsibilities. Because of that, they have more free time. They could undertake volunteer work, work as a mentor to younger kids – or even start their own movement to change the world.

Youth social entrepreneurship is nothing new. Sadly though, it tends to get lost in today’s world as more focus is given to the ASBO youth of today – those who engage in destructive behavior. Wouldn’t it be refreshing to open the papers and read stories about all young adults engaging in social entrepreneurship that could help change the world for the better?

Find out more at www.grassrootsideas.co.uk

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