Ronel Lehmann backs the next generation to find their own way in an increasingly confusing world
When we’re growing up, we plan for a world that has changed by the time we arrive in it. This has always been a problem: how do you look ahead when the world is moving so fast?
It’s never been truer than now. As an employability expert, I am heartbroken by the plight of young people today. Many understandably feel that overnight they’ve been faced with a diminishing range of options. There is the possibility that they may not live out the experience of every generation since the Second World War – to improve on the lot of their parents.
Nothing could have prepared them for the reality of furlough schemes, of training contracts suddenly in doubt, and online fresher years.
It’s a seismic shift in outlook. But the other day, I was on a Zoom call with business leaders, and I was asked as the resident jobs expert, whether I am – to use the prime minister’s zesty phrase – a doomster and a gloomster.
In truth, I’m not gloomy at all. That’s because in my line of work I’m fortunate enough to be exposed to the energy of the young on a daily basis. It is infectious. This is a generation full of creativity – but it’s also a generation that likes to unite and help each other. I hope no one will think it blasé of me therefore if I offer some optimistic predictions.
Firstly, I believe we now have the conditions for an entrepreneurial boom. Many are now wondering whether the traditional route of heading into a job for a few years and then starting out on their own, might prove the wrong approach at this historical moment. That training contract with the blue chip firm may look different somehow in the Covid era – if it’s still there at all. Why not start your own business instead – and what better time than now?
This shift is already to some extent ratified by the Treasury. The Future Fund will see the government issue convertible loans between £125,000 and £5 million to innovative companies. It’s true that the conditions won’t make every young person a shoo-in for eligibility – especially the requirement to have raised £250,000 from third-party investors in the last five years – but I think this, together with the moves the government appears to be making on the social mobility agenda, signals a change. This is a legislative environment that will increasingly benefit the entrepreneurial spirit, and I believe the Chancellor Rishi Sunak should be applauded for his vision.
We now have a government prepared to enter into our lives in ways which previous governments – even Labour administrations – wouldn’t have countenanced. I suspect this may even change the young’s attitudes to the state, and mark the advent of a new civic-mindedness. It might also be that Lee Elliot Major’s idea of a National Tutoring Service may be given the green light soon. This policy would add to another trend I expect: this will not be a generation given to Thatcherite individualism. I believe that during this time when awareness of the importance of the NHS has been paramount, and when environmentalism and issues of income and race equality are so much to the fore, we will find inspiration collide with a collective mindset in ways which will prove very exciting. The Chancellor deserves credit for this also.
Of course, we must be careful not to sugar coat this year of real hardship. And we must be wary of championing entrepreneurship in blithe and breezy terms, as a way of turning away from economic pain. It must be more than a feelgood notion.
But I’m not worried about that either. Crises breed realism, and this generation will have no choice but to seize the day. We all know that comfortable jobs can stifle creativity, and create the expectation of that salary packet which seems harder and harder to walk away from. The same fear lurks in every one of us – of lifelong regret when we look up from rote years in a job we never really wanted, to find we never quite discovered what we were really capable of.
That can happen to people in every generation. But I think it will happen less to this one. As the unhappy economic data stacks up, I don’t apologise for the optimistic thought that there will be many new businesses being created around the corner.
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