If the last year has taught us anything, it's that the world is unpredictable and we are in charge of our own wellbeing. This is a lesson that young people in particular need to take to heart.
Let’s take the whole pandemic year to be a learning experience. The unexpected happens, and suddenly the certainties that had shaped your life and expectations mutate, and your plans dissolve. Lesson 1 is therefore to expect the unexpected – closely followed by Lesson 2: Learn to see the opportunity in change.
Another, even harder lesson is that you are essentially on your own. Governments put packages together to try and ease the financial burden for struggling companies and individuals but, while welcome, this provides no more than a band-aid. The hard truth is that jobs are likely to be scarcer and more insecure.
For young people, particularly those members of Generation Z that have recently entered the job market, or those who are about to, these lessons need to be absorbed and acted on. Many believe that the apparent constraints that seem to be holding back today’s youth should actually be seen in a positive light, as incentives to succeed.
Develop an entrepreneurial mindset
It all comes down to outlook. Take a look at how companies and individuals coped with the pandemic and its associated lockdowns. Some simply kept going in the same old way, scaling back to try and survive. In the process, many lost jobs or had their salaries cut, and many companies simply folded. But then there were those that realised the extent of the change and made a plan. Families that were suddenly hurting found new ways of earning money – in the 1930s Great Depression, Ouma Greyvenstein used her baking skills to put food on the table, and Ouma’s Rusks was born. Over the past year, many families developed a side hustle based on simple skills to keep things going.
The same is true of companies, some of whom saw the shift to digital platforms and remote working as an opportunity to change the way they did business or even to reinvent themselves.
The bottom line is that young people’s intention on making a career for themselves will need a fair amount of creativity to succeed, and will have to develop an entrepreneurial mindset that focuses on identifying opportunities and solving problems.
In the process, they will gain control of their own lives, and also play a role in shaping our whole society – hopefully for the better. In fact, a study conducted on South African students confirmed that today’s young people are entrepreneurial in spirit, and are ready to capitalise on the opportunities offered by increased digitalisation and globalisation to make their own way.
Even more positive, it seems likely that one of the key characteristics of economic life is a growing focus on social entrepreneurship – entrepreneurial ventures that deliberately structure themselves to look beyond profit to give back to the communities in which they exist. This makes good business sense, because such enterprises tend to benefit from greater support from that community – their market, in other words.
Facing up to the challenges
All that said, we must not underestimate the challenges that would-be entrepreneurs face. Among these, one would have to include the difficulties of accessing seed capital to get the business going and then to expand, as well as dealing with the red tape and bureaucracy (including the ever-present tax man). Another whole set of challenges relate to the fact that the entrepreneur is the company, with a responsibility to come up with all the ideas and solutions, choose and build the team, make the decisions and so on.
Being an entrepreneur is not easy, and there’s a certain loneliness that comes with the territory, but it is thrilling and satisfying as well. To end with, perhaps the best advice comes from business coach and motivational speaker Nic Haralambous: Don’t kill yourself trying to be the best in the world. The Elon Musks and Oprah Winfreys of the world pay a huge price and are exceptional in every way. A key secret of success is understanding who you are, what is possible, and coming to terms with it.