Young microentrepreneurs deserve our support
OPINION: Schools have a significant role to play in preparing students for the new world of work.
Any high school students will spark up with enthusiasm at the thought of setting up and running their own business.
They will dream of financial independence at a young age, the ability to express their individuality and creativity, and the avoidance of the nine-to-five work routine that dominates the lives of so many of us.
This dream is increasingly becoming reality as more and more students become their own boss, ditching casual and part-time opportunities in the retail, entertainment and hospitality sectors to run their own microbusiness.
There is no fixed definition of ‘microbusiness’. The term is usually used to refer to a business run by an individual, rather than a corporation, and with up to four employees.
Many microbusinesses remain the domain of a single employee, who also happens to be the founder and business owner.
Typically, microbusinesses require little start-up capital and often are home based. The low capital investment means they are financially low risk.
The microbusiness will emerge from an idea that draws on an individual’s talent or skills.
Common types of microbusinesses include those associated with catering, childcare, pet care, fitness, computer services, training and tutoring, gardening, house cleaning, car detailing, accounting and in the beauty treatment sector.
The teenagers and young adults who make up Gen Z have been largely responsible for the microbusiness boom of the 21st century, given the attraction of freelance work and the flexibility of self-employment.
The digital age has provided further incentive for young microentrepreneurs. The gig economy has triggered new ways of trading and provided access to a global marketplace.
Callum Smith is a member of Gen Z and a good example of how young microentrepreneurs can channel passion and expertise into creating a flourishing business.
While completing his final years at St Stephen’s School in Perth’s northern suburbs, Mr Smith’s passion for photography led him to cover key school and social events.
It also prompted him to consider turning a passion into a future. His school supported his efforts by helping him secure work experience with a professional photographer.
On leaving school, Mr Smith established a viable photography and videography microbusiness.
Success stories like this should prompt school leaders and teachers to rethink how they prepare students for a post-education future, cognisant that a growing number of students will bypass the more traditional employment or study options and instead try to establish their own microbusiness – often while still at school.
Some schools will extend the roles of traditional career advisers to incorporate the ambitions of young microentrepreneurs. Others will employ business coaches to provide support to the burgeoning number of students wishing to become freelance workers.
Many schools will also look to broaden their vocational and education training (VET) offering by delivering nationally accredited qualifications such as the Certificate III in micro business operations or the Certificate III in small business management.
Other schools, starting at the primary level, may seek to extend the range of in-school business experience initiatives on offer.
In the US, schools in more than 60 cities participate in an initiative known as ‘Lemonade Day’. Having completed a learning process that focused on the basics of running a business, including the formulation of business plans, budgeting and marketing, students (under teacher supervision) operate lemonade stalls that are open to the public.
There is also the possibility of supporting young microentrepreneurs through extracurricular activities. For example, schools could set up a business incubators’ group.
Just imagine the possibilities that could emerge from a school-based co-working space or a mentoring program under which real-life and successful business owners support would-be microentrepreneurs.
When schools are prepared to collaborate, new opportunities to support young microentrepreneurs will emerge.
Consider the possibility of setting up an annual business fair where students across all ages and from several schools set up booths and sell goods and services they have created – ranging from home-made kombucha to apps to tutoring services – to fellow students and perhaps even members of the parent community.
Whatever approach schools take to cater for the needs of our young microentrepreneurs, the message needs to be loud and clear: we must recognise that an increasing number of students will leave our schools to head straight into a business of their own.
It demands that school leaders and teachers think creatively about how best to prepare students for this new workplace reality.