Corporate culture is being challenged by start-up culture, prompting young people to question the world of work and the skills that are relevant to the workplace. The maker movement suggests crafting a career based on personal interest rather than professional training, and big business’ are increasingly using collaborative methods such as co-creation to involve inexperienced yet skilled consumers in their innovation process.
The 'try-before-you-buy' approach
To help assimilate into the world of work, and to get relevant experience, more and more students and graduates are taking voluntary positions and internships at organisations that interest them. This has created a try-before-you-buy approach, where young people get a taste of the workplace and employers are able to familiarise themselves with the skills of potential future employees.
At YouthSight, we believe that young people are open-minded, curious and creative. Never before have young people had so many creative outlets. Blogging offers the ability to share thoughts and ideas well beyond your friendship group, vlogging gives a platform for young people to be seen as well as heard as a personality, and digital media has enabled young people to visually document and share their experiences in almost real-time. Gen Y and especially Gen Z are growing up with a belief in their ability to make things and their right to have an audience.
University is a hotbed of entrepreneurial activity
Universities have also begun to recognise the importance of real work experience, with many courses now encouraging students to start a business as part of their degree. We spoke to Lucy, a recent Fashion Communication graduate, who was encouraged to start a company as part of her course. She said
“Starting a business at university was a great experience and a change in dynamic to my normal timetable and schedule. It was great to understand the importance of discovering, understanding and utilising each team member's specific skills and what they bring to a business. I feel like this has prepared me for the 'real world' and a real office environment where everyone's strengths are used to create the best possible outcome.”
Lucy is not alone in starting a business at university, last year YouthSight self-funded a piece of research, interviewing 1006 students to explore their desire to make their entrepreneurial ambitions into a reality. We found that 10% of students had already started a business while at a further 17% plan to do so before they graduate. That’s over a quarter of students in the UK who already own/plan to start their own business while at university.
- A quarter of businesses started by students related to technology, software or app development, the most popular type of business amongst students.
- Entrepreneurs starting a technology business are five times more likely to be male students.
- The second most popular business type was arts and crafts (22%), which were more likely to be started by female students than males.
So who are these one in ten students who own their own business and why do they do it? We found that the largest proportion (44%) of students who already started their own business were art/design students like Lucy, while business/admin students were a close entrepreneurial second (38%). Over two thirds of students started their own business to earn money (67%) while 60% of entrepreneurs had done so to pursue a personal interest or hobby.
Young entrepreneurs making headlines
We know from previous research conducted by YouthSight that young people are not wholly motivated by money when it comes to their career ambitions. Over the last 3 years, young people have become more motivated by the interesting challenges and opportunities work has to offer, above the financial rewards. Young people do not have to look far to be inspired by their peers. There are now so many young, successful entrepreneurs in the UK. We’ve also seen record numbers of young people start their own business and a new raft of successful young business people have become the poster men and women of the cohort.
Jamal Edwards, 24, founder of SBTV and recent OBE recipient for services to music, 29-year old Cassandra Stavrou who founded popcorn brand Propercorn which is now available in trendy cafes and supermarkets up and down the country, and Fraser Doherty, a 24 year old jam-maker and young entrepreneur of the year 2007, have all gained notoriety for the success of their business ventures.
Jamal Edwards, 24, founder of SBTV, Cassandra Stayroi, 29, founder of PROPOERCORN, Fraser Doherty, 24, founder of Super Jam.
Once graduated, will students still want to be entrepreneurs?
To find out whether young people really do want a career as an entrepreneur, we spoke to Inspiring Interns, an organisation that helps students and graduates who are just starting out by matching them with appealing internship opportunities. Benedict Hazan, Co-Founder of Inspiring Interns clearly recognises the desire young people have to go it alone. He said
“I think the boom in successful tech start-up to overnight success has had a huge influence on young people’s aspirations. At Inspiring Interns we’ve seen an increase in demand from graduates to join a start-up rather than a large multinational by way of gaining experience in growing a business from such an early stage. I think much of this is because young people today are far more willing to start their own business than join a company and climb the corporate ladder as say their parents might have done.”
To test this theory, YouthSight asked students about their intentions after they graduate. Despite their entrepreneurial enthusiasm while at university, reality does seem to kick in with only 14% of students wanting to work for themselves after they leave university (a drop from 26%). We also found that over a quarter of students said they would prefer to work for a small or micro sized company (with up to 50 employees), suggesting that Hazan was right about young people’s openness to working in new or growing companies.
Looking at the young people who want to work for themselves, we found little difference between male and female ambitions, or the reasons students give to start their own business. We also see students from art/design, law and STEM courses being more likely to maintain their desire to go it alone.
From our point of view, as a specialist youth research agency, we were not surprised that students become more realist as they approach graduation and choose to park their entrepreneurial dreams. That’s not to say that young people are abandoning their ambitions to work for themselves, they recognise that some groundwork will need to be done before branching out on their own. Tuition fees will need to be paid, student debt will need to be consolidated and money will need to be earned to pay for independent living. As Lucy said
“At this moment in time being my own boss is not something that I am focusing on - I feel like at the beginning of my career I need the support and guidance of those with more experience. However, it is something I would consider at a later stage in my career or perhaps in a project that I run in my personal time, outside of work.”
To find out more about Millennial & Gen Z dreams, aspirations, lifestyles and habits, speak to our team now to find out more about our data + insight survey, State of the youth Nation, or click below.