Calling it “dangerous” to think more corporate and small business jobs are the only solution to America’s unemployment problem, a new report prepared for the U.S. Department of Labor calls for more time, energy and money to be spent on preparing people – including youths -- to work for themselves.
“Now is the time to make a stand to promote entrepreneurship,” states the report, titled Think Entrepreneurs: A Call to Action: Integrating Entrepreneurship Into the Public Workforce System Throughout America.
The report was completed by the Columbus, Ohio-based Consortium for Entrepreneurship Education for the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration.
“People don‘t become successful entrepreneurs without training, planning, support and a measure of good luck,” the report states. “Fostering an entrepreneurial mindset is essential to our future success, and teaching entrepreneurial skills to all learners (whether or not they eventually start businesses) is a no-lose proposition for the U.S. economy.”
While the consortium’s call for promoting entrepreneurship is generally seen as a welcome effort in the youth work field, it is also being met with skepticism and caveats that entrepreneurship is not a panacea.
“You have to be careful. The failure rate of businesses is real high,” cautions Edward DeJesus, founder and CEO of the Youth Development and Research Fund, a Montgomery Village, Md.,-based firm that does youth development staff training throughout the nation.
“Thinking that the majority of young people are going to come out and develop lives of economic self-sufficiency through entrepreneurship is a stretch,” he said.
DeJesus also said it would be a disservice to minority youths to promote entrepreneurship without warning them about discriminatory practices in America’s lending system and some of the difficulties that minority contractors face in securing business.
Others in the youth work field noted that not all youths have the disposition for being self-employed.
“I think you can teach entrepreneurship, or at least the fundamentals,” said Luis Borunda, president/CEO & founder of U.S. Hispanic Youth Entrepreneur Education (USHYEE), based in Baltimore. “But there is also a set of characteristics that are common to entrepreneurs, and not everybody has those characteristics.
“Not everybody has a bent for taking risks. Entrepreneurship, by its nature, is full of risks, and they are high. That’s not something you can teach people,” he said.
At the same time, Borunda acknowledged, many youths from poor neighborhoods are already taking high entrepreneurial-like risks by participating in crime, particularly the urban drug trade.
One of the challenges for youth workers, he said, is to deal with the issues of youths who take such risks – in part because they don’t think they’ll live very long anyway – and getting them to think more long-term.
The Think Entrepreneurship report calls for a variety of measures to get more resources devoted to cultivating entrepreneurship among America’s youths.
Among other things, the report recommends doing more to use the Workforce Investment Act – still awaiting Congressional reauthorization – to promote and teach entrepreneurship to youths.
However, the report states, Workforce Investment Boards (WIBs) throughout the nation generally have not created a culture of promoting entrepreneurship, even though business leaders sit on most of the boards.
Ron Painter, CEO of the National Association of Workforce Boards, was not available for comment, according to a spokeswoman for the organization.
AdvantageWest Economic Development Group, in Fletcher, N.C., is cited in the Think Entrepreneurship report as one of the successful examples of an organization that promotes youth entrepreneurship.
Through its Certified Entrepreneurial Community program, AdvantageWest helps communities form a leadership team, do community visioning and asset mapping, identify entrepreneurial talent, create a comprehensive plan for including youths in entrepreneurship, and streamline business licensing and permitting for entrepreneurs.
Several communities in North Carolina are currently seeking a CEC designation through the program, which has also drawn interest from eight different states, the report states. Upon a community’s successful completion of the program, AdvantageWest provides marketing and access to a revolving loan fund for qualified entrepreneurs, among other things.
Pam Lewis, senior vice president of entrepreneurial development at AdvantageWest, said engaging youths in entrepreneurship is a critical part of making any community’s economy more healthy and vibrant.
Recently, the organization held a design competition for youths that ultimately was won by a group of industrial design students at Appalachian State University who created a bike out of plastic bottles.
“Their career path was industrial design,” Lewis said. “But once they entered this competition and started looking at everything we put together on entrepreneurship, they are now looking at creating their own business and have more of a business focus in mind.”