Entrepreneurship: breaking the cycle of youth unemployment

28 September 2014
Guest Blogger Erin Lynn

Globally, youth unemployment rates are rising rapidly. The International Labour Organisation estimates that there are over 73 million young people who are unemployed. Around 90 per cent of the World’s unemployed youth live in developing countries. And whilst the figure for industrialised countries pales by comparison, it still represents more than 7.3 million people. And for those 7.3 million people, finding a secure income is critical. It is critical to both maintain any standard of living and to avoid relying on government welfare, which falls well below the poverty line. In Australia, the overall unemployment rate is 6 per cent. For young people, however, the unemployment rate is 14.1 per cent, and this figure is forecast to grow at an alarming rate. For the current Government, this unemployment crisis represents a huge challenge to the public wallet and they have reacted with arguably harsh measures.

In the last week of July 2014, there was significant media coverage about new Government’s new job placement program. The program requires job seekers who are available and able to work full time, to apply to 40 jobs per month in order to receive their unemployment benefit. This policy has raised many questions for both youth and enterprise. For young people, these questions include, where are the jobs that I will apply to? What is the quality of employment opportunities available? Will I have to work in a job beneath my skill level? Was my higher education a waste of money? For enterprise, the questions include, who is going to filter the increased job applications? What impact is this going to have on my bottom line? As a current PhD Candidate and an employee of five years in the higher education sector, my first question is, why 40 jobs? Is there is a significant difference in job search success between 39 and 40 applications submitted? Or between 20 and 40 applications submitted? I am not sure there is any evidence to support this seemingly arbitrary number (please correct me if I am wrong!).

There is no easy solution to reducing youth unemployment rates, economic and social environments have a huge impact on how Government’s and individuals approach the problem. But for young people in a prosperous economy, entrepreneurship is one way to move on from a politically charged youth unemployment and welfare entitlement debate, into a mature conversation with a long term income generating solution.

Australian entrepreneurs are uniquely positioned in a relatively strong economy, when compared to people in other industrialised countries. There is the scope to build intentionally hybrid careers spanning a broad range of specialities, skills and passions. And young Australians are highly skilled and have enormous, unprecedented opportunity to draw on transnational relationships for their businesses. All of this means that young people can build a dynamic and flexible yet rewarding and meaningful career. Entrepreneurship not only provides a meaningful solution to youth unemployment, both economically and psycho-socially, but it also builds a culture of independence from the traditional labour market, from government welfare, and from being the pawns of polarising political ideology.

So, while the economic and social climate is one is ideal for young entrepreneurs, there are also a range of (exciting!) challenges that people face when they are starting and growing their businesses. When I started my own social enterprise earlier this year, Generate Worldwide, I found navigating the minefield of governmental red tape and basic tasks outside of my expertise, like registering a website, to be overwhelming. Fortunately, during my time as a graduate research student I have learned how to manage my own time and work in an autonomous, isolating environment. But for those people who have only worked in traditional workplaces, all of this presents a huge challenge. The good news is that in Australia, there is a growing culture of mobilising and nurturing youth entrepreneurship through organisations like The Entourage, and for women, The League of Extraordinary Women . Online, there are a range of great resources such as Start Up Daily, which connects people with news in the start-up space.

To echo the sentiment of the recent G20 Young Entrepreneurs’ Youth Alliance summit, ‘global youth unemployment needs a global solution’. There is extraordinary interest and action from international organisations and private enterprise to promote entrepreneurship as a solution to youth unemployment. And for Australia, young people are perfectly positioned economically, socially and globally, to pursue entrepreneurship as a meaningful career path that breaks the cycle of high unemployment.

Erin Lynn is a PhD Candidate at Monash University where she is researching women’s entrepreneurship in the Indian diaspora. She is alumni of the UN ESCAP Internship Programme in New Delhi, and Founder of Generate Worldwide, a social enterprise that specialises in philanthropic and development education travel. Her passion for travel, research and education about and within the South Asia region is rivaled only by her passion for making the perfect curry.

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