It’s time to recognise our young maverick dreamers

Jul 14, 2021 | Selection & assessment

Emerging from the pandemic is a new generation of young entrepreneurs. Louise Nicol, Founder of Asia Careers Group questions whether the corporate world is ready.

With a crystal ball in hand it is reasonable to think that the post-pandemic world will see so much pressure on graduate jobs that students will be willing to take the step of setting up their own business.

Many will try and most will fail having learnt hard skills around business management, production and cash flows and graduated in the stressful soft skills of resilience, hustling and personal commitment.

The real question is whether their ‘university of start up life’ will have earnt them a spot in the recruitment spotlight of businesses used to complaining about the lack of preparation they find in new graduates.

It certainly cannot have escaped anyone that, as we emerge from the pandemic, well paid graduate level work will be far harder to come by and many of last year’s graduates are still struggling to find a job.

In China 8.7 million people will graduate from college this year and excluding those who qualified for jobs at public institutes or government departments, nearly six million graduates will find a harsh job market according to a recent report.

Data from Emsi Burning Glass, a labour-market analytics firm, found that since the start of the pandemic in the US, hiring for entry-level college graduate positions has fallen 45%. This is more than for any other category of education and is especially troubling because the first job after graduation is critical to launching a career. Those who start behind tend to stay behind.


New generation of entrepreneurs

A coinciding trend is seeing increasing numbers of graduates opting to set up businesses directly following university. International students are particularly active with Asia Careers Group data comparing the graduate destinations of over 40,000 UK international students, suggesting that the most entrepreneurial students are those from India studying in the UK.

In the UK businesses created in June 2020 was 50% higher than in June 2019, according to the Centre for Entrepreneurs and July set a new record with more than 81,000 businesses registered.

There is no data on how many of these companies have been started by fresh graduates but anecdotally, many final-year students faced with fewer opportunities like entry schemes and internships, have decided to be their own boss instead. This includes businesses like Snackcess – delivering healthy snacks to home workers – and Sojo – collecting clothes from people’s homes to provide alterations.

This is very different to the fond notion that bright young people graduate from higher education and transition into the corporate world through established rites of passage, like the milkround in the UK.

In this traditional world parents pressure their children to achieve more than they were able to do by becoming an accountant, lawyer or engineer. Your child getting a better job than you is a symbol of good parenting and reflects a genuine belief that middle class stability is the purpose of education.

But it has also become a well-trodden path to climb the corporate ladder before jacking it all in to pursue a long-held dream.


Escaping the rat race

Googling ‘escaping the rat race’ offers thousands of entries dispensing advice on how to go from the daily grind to living the dream. “Kristin was working as an investment banker in Newport Beach, California…but, a self-confessed ‘dreamer’, she craved more. So, she quit the rat race and sold her belongings to hit the road solo and started a successful travel blog.”

This is not just a western concept because there is a growing movement in Asia where many young professionals trapped in a monotonous grind in the central business district, escape the rat race. Zhang, 32, and his wife Gao Fei quit their jobs (he was a corporate trainer; she was an archaeological researcher in Anhui province), to set up one of the first homestays in a remote fishing village on Dapeng peninsula near Shenzhen, China.

“Many people think young people in their 20s or 30s should get regular jobs and strive for success in big corporations. Our parents were among the strong opponents, who believed we should live by ‘honest’ labour … But if we can live a life that we’ve been dreaming of now, why I should waste my time and live someone else’s nine-to-five life in an office cubicle?” said Zhang

Much has been written about international students establishing successful businesses in their country of study with ApplyBoard being one good example. However, far less is made of government incentives to attract those studying abroad back home with their successful start-ups. Talent Corp was set up by the Malaysian government to bring successful Malaysians back to their home country to drive economic development and growth.

If we accept that there is a growing trend, even a need driven by economic factors, for university graduates to start their own business immediately after graduation we need to recognise that for every successful initiative there are many more that fall by the wayside.

As the owner of a start-up I can confirm that being an entrepreneur is frustrating, lonely, and characterised by more hard knocks than soft landings. As a result, many aspiring entrepreneurs take the decision to change direction and look to try their hand in an established business where they believe their hard-earned skills will be welcome.

Despite some graduates being ill-equipped in terms of skills when transitioning to the world of work, the corporate world is not ready for this sea change.


Recognising entrepreneurial talent

The emergence of AI and algorithms to select candidates is unlikely to be fit for purpose in assessing the 20-hours a day, personal commitment and sheer will-power that entrepreneurs have had to show. Many recruiters will likely reject the maverick dreamer driven by burning energy.

Companies need to make rapid adjustments to adapt and recognise a growing population of entrepreneurial talent that may at some point chose to shift gears and enter the corporate world.

They must work out how to select individuals on merit, capability and experience so they can utilise their entrepreneurial skills for the benefit of established businesses. The phrase ‘entrepreneur is common but brings a new reality when faced with selecting entrepreneurs who bring the drive, determination and street smarts to transform performance in an established business.

Read more from Louise on how the pandemic is impacting Malaysian graduates


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