The importance of Youth Entrepreneurship is undeniable. Yet sometimes, teachers and professors do not know how to promote entrepreneurship among youth properly. Things have changed a lot in the last 15 years. Teenagers do not have the same attitude and mindset as before.
These days, instant gratification has become evermore popular in the youth culture. Easy access to what I want. Instant movies. Instant Social Media. Instant stardom. Instant results. So, how do you overcome the valley of Youth Entrepreneurship on the one hand and the culture of “I want it My Way or No Way!”
- Instant research results via Google as opposed to sitting in a library, drinking a warm cup of coffee and taking the time to enjoy the serenity of paging through a book to accumulate the knowledge you seek.
- Instead of learning by trial and error, instant meals are what joy cooking a meal – your own creation – can bring.
- Instant movies on-demand via Netflix and Amazon Prime as opposed to attending a play at a theatre or watching an eccentric, unconventional movie at the Cinema Nouveau.
- Instant gratification in using that extra bonus you received at the end of the year on new clothes as opposed to delayed gratification; investing each year’s bonus and enjoying the investment returns in the future.
The aforementioned takes me back to the 1991 Disney Movie – Hook – and the scene where gifted and exceptional Dustin Hoffman, portraying Captain Hook, aims to teach Peter Pan’s two children as to why parents don’t like their children.
Economists of Stanford University took four-year-olds one at a time and put them in a room with a single marshmallow sitting on a table. The experimenter told them he had to leave for a short errand, but if they waited without eating the marshmallow, they would get an extra one upon his return. 70% of the kids caved, on average lasting 3 minutes before eating it.
The rest of the kids were visibly frustrated as they tried to wait. Some turned away from the table so they wouldn’t see the marshmallow. Some covered their eyes. The researchers later asked the kids (now adults) for their SAT scores. The patient kids scored better…
Without going into too much detail on the Psychology of Instant Gratification, it is important to note the following though:
- If our children, teenagers, and young adults grow up in a society of instant everything now, how can we expect these same youngsters to be successful entrepreneurs?
- Entrepreneurship takes time. Success is not achieved overnight. Instant gratification is a myth when it comes to starting your own business. There is no such thing as instant success. Becoming an entrepreneur does not guarantee success. If you want instant gratification, don’t become an entrepreneur.
These are all bold statements that are not aimed to deter the youth of South Africa from choosing entrepreneurship as a ‘career path’. No, I am merely stating the obvious that so many ‘past entrepreneurs to be’ have experienced themselves – the hard way!
In my continuous discussions with prospective entrepreneurs from the youth category, it is evident that these individuals have a skewed impression of what it takes to start a new business. Sadly, we live in a society where one is seemingly judged more by what job you hold, how much money you have and what business you start rather than the results from it.
With an unemployment rate of more than 66% of South Africa’s youth (between the ages of 18 and 34), it is evident that waiting on the South African economy to create jobs for these young adults is not the answer. Instead, creating an entrepreneurial spirit from a young age is perhaps the answer or, at least, one of the answers/solutions.
Youth Entrepreneurship and the Barriers to Starting a Business:
In my discussions with young, prospective entrepreneurs, the following key factors are seen by these individuals as their greatest barriers to starting a small business in South Africa:
- Insecurity in whether the product or service will work and if there is a market for the product and service.
- Lack of enough start-up capital and time to work on the business idea, especially if the prospective entrepreneur is employed full-time.
- Lack of business management skills, financial literacy and technical competence.
- Leaving a full-time job and the associated loss of benefits (e.g. medical aid, pension fund, fuel allowance, etc.) and trading a guaranteed monthly salary for possible no salary during the initial start-up phase of the business.
- Inadequate knowledge of and experience in the intended business venture or industry coupled with ignorance of the challenges and risks associated with starting and managing a small business.
- Lack of support from family and friends and pressure from parents and family members telling you, “You can’t achieve your dreams” and “You need a full-time, permanent job”. Additional (negative) pressure from social groups further underpins the fear of failure and being rather content with the status quo.
- The administrative (non-sales generating) function and paperwork associated with starting a new business. Evidence from dealing with prospective entrepreneurs is that adequate bookkeeping is one of the most important functions they do not focus on. Further investigation shows this is primarily due to a lack of financial management skills.
- Starting a new business is a lonely experience; going at it alone isolates you. This is a concern to most prospective entrepreneurs, especially if they plan to start a new business from home. Unfortunately, most prospective entrepreneurs do not have access to a mentor that can empathise with the emotional and physical reality of starting and managing a small business.
Teenagers (some teenagers, not all) leave school these days and not only think they will easily find a job, but they also want ridiculous salaries for their first job. In the past 10 years, I have spoken to more than 300 young adults between 18 and 25. A shockingly large percentage of them demand first-job salaries of R20,000+ per month.
What’s more worrying is that a large proportion won’t even consider leaving the house and taking a job (any job) for anything less than this. When I think back to when I started my career, I earned R800 per month, and I still had to pay my parents for boarding and lodging.
Perhaps, arguably, parents are their children’s own enemies. If you subsidise his/her lifestyle of sleeping until noon; going out with friends on an all-expenses-paid day; getting new clothes, and an overall couch potato, aimlessly lie in front of the TV or mobile phone the whole day instead of looking for a job mentality, then how can you expect a child even to break away from this instant gratification society?
In my opinion, the high failure rate of small businesses in South Africa and the high youth unemployment rate suggest something fundamentally wrong. The key to small business success lies in hard work, commitment, dedication, and continuous learning, all of which improve the chances of ensuring a sustainable business enterprise. Please don’t get me wrong. This instant gratification society is not the only problem for South Africa’s youth. But it is one of the, perhaps more important, problems.
My Humble Tips for Creating an Entrepreneurial Spirit from a Young Age:
Entrepreneurship Tip 1 ― Think inside the box because the box is empty while everyone else is outside the box.
Not everyone can be a Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk. It is very rarely that an entrepreneur can or need to create a ‘one-of-a-kind invention’ that will make them billions of Rands. Sometimes it is not even about reinventing the wheel. But who says you can’t look at the wheel and change the spokes or perhaps paint the wheel a different colour?
Kids need to understand that innovation doesn’t mean you must come up with a never before seen business idea or product. It can also mean doing something that already exists a little bit better. Once children understand that innovation is not an insurmountable mountain, they may stop being afraid of entrepreneurship. No, you don’t have to have a one-of-a-kind idea or product to succeed. You just need to do something that the other guy already does better, faster, cheaper.
Entrepreneurship Tip 2 ― “What do you want to be when you grow up” is the question you must start with.
A doctor, mommy. A fireman daddy. A spaceman grandma. A pilot grandpa. Iron Man, auntie. All answers we expect to hear and do hear. So it would be quite a shock to a parent’s system if little Johnny said, “I want to become an entrepreneur mommy”. But kids need to realise that this is a career option. And a viable one at that. If it is approached correctly.
Of course, some children grow up in entrepreneurial households where mom and/or dad own their own businesses. And to these kids, I say, WOW! You are already light years ahead of your peers. That is to say, if the entrepreneur parents take the time to instil that entrepreneurial spirit in their young. So, when the child is at that tender age of exploring potential careers one day, do yourself a favour.
Introduce the world of the entrepreneur to them. Next time when grandma asks, “What do you want to be when you are grown-up, Johnny” he will blow grandma away when he says, “I want to be an entrepreneur”. Chances are grandma will have to bring out the Oxford Dictionary to look up this alien term “entrepreneurship”.
Entrepreneurship Tip 3 ― It is sad that business leaders still complain that they can’t find qualified workers with so many unemployed.
Yes, it is sad, but it is reality.
It is not going to change. The sooner this reality is faced, the better. That being said, successful entrepreneurs can create jobs for the unemployed. Perhaps not the qualified CA or Actuarial type jobs, but jobs nonetheless. Ask yourself: “Do you want your child to be book smart or street smart as well?”
Entrepreneurship is just as much to do with ‘going with your guts’, being creative, managing your personal finances and taking calculated risks as it is to do with knowing mathematics, accounting, etc. But who is going to teach your child these invaluable life skills? The South African Teachers, whether public or private school Teachers? No! The University Professor? Of course not!
It needs to start at home. And sure enough, most parents don’t have the inclination or knowledge to teach these entrepreneurial skills to their children. Still, with enough research, parents will find out that there are individuals in South Africa who can fulfil this role of Entrepreneurship Mentor, Entrepreneurial Spirit Counsellor and Life Skills Orientation Coach.
As parents, you don’t necessarily have to fulfil all these roles, but you can plant the entrepreneurial seed and seek guidance and external help from someone who can water the seed and nurture it through its growth phases.
Entrepreneurship Tip 4 ― Our schooling system is geared towards professional professions.
“Mathematics is important, Lilly! But why is it important, mom? Because I said so.”
Our South African kids are unfortunately faced with the reality that our quality of schooling has deteriorated over the past 20 years and that we have reached a point of being compared to the worst rate and levels of education in the world, as cited by numerous periodic surveys conducted on the subject.
The Professional Provident Society (PPS) has warned that the government needs to do more to improve the standard of education in South Africa, saying that students have largely lost faith in the quality of learning they receive at universities.
A recent survey by the Financial Services Group found that as many as 25% of studying professionals felt insufficiently prepared for higher education. In comparison, 43% of the students said they had been moderately prepared. The survey included responses from 3,304 students with a focus on professional degrees. In 2018, the WEF placed South Africa 137th out of 139 countries for the overall quality of its education system.
So here’s a question:
Our children need to fill the scares skills in South Africa of engineers, scientists, etc. All require exceptional skills and knowledge of mathematics, science, etc. So with arguably an extremely poor level of education, substandard quality Teachers and an overall curriculum that fails to be even compared to world standards, how can one expect a child to eventually leave school to contribute meaningfully to the local economy and fill these scarce jobs?
Change your approach, perhaps?
“Entrepreneurship is important, Lilly! But why is it important, mom? Because, my dear, with your entrepreneurial spirit, you can one day create jobs for others, make a difference and beat the odds irrespective of the failing educational system. And also, because I said so. Ha, ha, ha….”
Entrepreneurship Tip 5 ― Entrepreneurship is much more than just starting your own business.
It is fundamentally about the desire and internal need to solve problems creatively. The foundation – curiosity, creativity, risk-taking, imagination and collaboration – are just some qualities that one would require in a job as an engineer, for example. So if becoming an engineer is a viable career choice, why can’t becoming an entrepreneur be one?
When exposing your children to new experiences, focus on activities that will instil the desire and potential to create and innovate, dream and imagine, and always challenge and improve the status quo.
Instilling an entrepreneurial spirit in a child does not mean adding another subject or course on entrepreneurship to the child’s school or university curriculum. No!
One needs to move away from employee-oriented education to a new standard: entrepreneur-oriented education. It is about respecting children as unique and wonderful human beings with passion, curiosity, talents, dreams and silliness, all of which will be supported and not suppressed. And don’t look at schools to achieve this.
Schools work with a strict curriculum or employee-oriented education. But, it must start at home so our children can truly become global contributors, creative dreamers and entrepreneurial creatures that will change the local economy – one couch potato at a time!