Why Entrepreneurship Is An Approved Career Choice At Last

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Increasing numbers of people across age groups are starting to view entrepreneurial careers as acceptable choices. The reasons for this are structural, technological, and borne as much out of necessity as of innovation.

Entrepreneurship has finally become a culturally accepted career choice among young people. This is according to The State of European Tech, the November 2015 survey co-authored by Atomico and Slush, which suggests 41% of the respondents in 18-24 range and over a third of respondents in the 25-34 range ‘embrace entrepreneurship as a culturally acceptable career choice as it finally passes the “parent test”’ (see slide 9 of the survey). So what does ‘culturally accepted’ mean, what is the ‘parent test’, and what are some of the overarching reasons for this shift in understanding?

Cultural Acceptance As A Structural Necessity

Cultural acceptance of entrepreneurship is due to at least two central structural reasons: First, the obvious excitement about tech innovation and the deepening embedding of millennials and future generations in technological practices on a normative level spurs its own innovation and contributions, as individuals become increasingly competent in manipulating and engineering technology itself. Second, but just as importantly, European institutions are reacting to high unemployment rates, particularly among youth, by attempting to roll back some of the traditional European barriers to entrepreneurship, such as, for example, the European Commission’s announcement last week that it would considerably mark up the income level at which it legally requires early-stage businesses to provided prospectuses to investors.

As former EU Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism & Youth, Androulla Vassiliou, acknowledges in a 2013 EC report,

‘Encouraging entrepreneurship is particularly important to face challenges related to alarmingly high youth unemployment rates in most of the EU Member States. Entrepreneurship and self-employment offer pathways for young people to emerge from unemployment. In this context, special attention is paid to the social entrepreneurship model, which is embedded in the real economy, close to people and to local communities, and primarily aimed at contributing to the general good of society.’

This suggests that, firstly, broader structural unemployment across Europe is forcing changing attitudes to employment itself; secondly, that technological innovation, as one cause of unemployment in more traditional sectors, is also providing entrepreneurial solutions, and thirdly, that some of these emerging solutions and tentative successes are encouraging rising numbers of people to view entrepreneurship as a culturally acceptable career path.

The Parent Test

One of the traditional impediments to this view has been the gap of understanding between generations, or specifically between a generation accustomed to viewing success as a measure of job security, and an ensuing generation faced with no such guarantees. This conflict can be felt on a broader global scale, as a recent World Bank story on entrepreneurship in Latin America (which is equally on the rise) suggests, where

‘(t)raditionally, young people leaned toward professional careers in medicine or law. “Being an entrepreneur was never well-viewed. It was likened to being a dealer. It was not among the more respected careers,” says [World Bank private-sector specialist Cristian] Quijada Torres. He believes entrepreneurship should be viewed as a career as important as any other, and perhaps one that is even more valuable for a country’s development.’

The “Parent Test” for younger generations, then, has been one of overcoming the expectation of choosing a more traditional career path – for which the funds necessary for an expensive education may simply no longer be available, or which could conceivably imply a lifetime of debt under current economic conditions – and to demonstrate the entrepreneurial path as being viable in its own right. As startups can prove fraught with difficulty to get off the ground, providing this evidence can be an uphill climb. On the other hand, parents themselves are being forced to recognize the struggle and to adapt to some of the changes needed: as more traditional jobs also become harder to come by, and mechanization increasingly replaces skilled workers – or forces them to upgrade their skills on a constant basis – many of these are also being compelled to explore options as: freelancers.

Generations Of Freelancers

Much is being made of the explosion of the freelancing sector worldwide. In the UK, for instance, the number of freelancers for 2015 is projected at close to 2 million, while research by online freelance market PeoplePerHour predicts self-employment will grow at an annual rate of 3.5% over the next five years in the UK, meaning ‘one in two people.. [could] be working as freelancers by 2020’. Whether this is by choice or out of necessity, some analysts, such as Andrew Burke in the study The Role of Freelancers in the 21st Century British Economy see this as a positive trend for enterprises, crediting freelancers with being ‘sources of and conduits for innovation in both corporations and SMEs’, enabling ‘businesses to manage, in fact reduce, entrepreneurial risk and so promote innovation’ and reducing ‘barriers to market entry and minimum efficient scale,’ among other benefits.

Where the benefits to freelancers themselves may remain an open question for some time, depending on the industry in question and a host of other factors, one thing appears increasingly certain: The cultural acceptance of entrepreneurship appears to be borne as much out of necessity as innovation and opportunity, with the ‘parent test’ being forced to undergo re-evaluation as parents themselves are increasingly compelled to face the demands of the new economy shared by their children. In the face of the difficulties this presents, it can hopefully also be an opportunity for innovative convergences of the understanding across generations.



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