No Jobs, No Problem for Youth Entrepreneurs

My colleague Darren Shock recently used this space to write about how the values and priorities of Gen Y-ers like him and I may have significant impacts on housing and land use patterns. It’s certainly true that uncertainty regarding the economy and labour market are changing the traditional outlook on home ownership. A recent article by Hannah Seligson in the New York Times suggests that these trends are also forcing young people to change the way they look at employment, too.

Seligson’s article effectively argues that, in increasing numbers, young college graduates are creating their own jobs, rather than competing for the few that are available. What I find exciting about this trend is the way these talented, innovative young entrepreneurs are accelerating changes in the way that work is organized. Entrepreneurship is necessarily risky, yet those in Gen Y are bringing new skills and values into their approach to their job.

On one hand, this affects how people work. We know by now that the internet enables a culture of entrepreneurship whereby “all you need is a laptop, patience and willingness”, according to one person cited in the article. Young people are embracing this approach wholeheartedly. Yet even where businesses do require physical space, they are often setting up in flexible shared environments, such as Toronto’s Centre for Social Innovation, that are more adaptive to meet their business needs.

However, Gen Y-ers are also proving that there are still market niches that are unfilled. Interestingly, given my own interest, many of these niches exist in the service economy. Derek Thomson, writing in The Atlantic, notes that many of these young entrepreneurs are finding ways to use technology to meet our service needs – from helping us find jobs to managing our finances.

As Darren noted in his post, 9.2 million Gen Y-ers will be entering the Canadian workforce, if not already in it. It’s pretty clear that their approach to that work will be different than any generation before. Rather than being “screwed”, as Maclean’s recently argued, Gen Y workers look increasingly willing (and able) to create their own economy. The day may not be long when business parks and hotel ballrooms give way to server farms and corner pubs as the key infrastructure for economic growth and networking in our communities.