Lord Young’s report offers many encouraging proposals to celebrate.
The suggestion to lift the Start-Up Loan scheme age limit past 30, the £30 million promised in growth vouchers to SME’s, the opening up of procurement to contracts under 200K – but the thing that stuck out most to me was the continuing twin problems of startup growth, and youth unemployment. And with such a natural synergy between them, it’s absolutely vital that we do all we can to encourage relationships between the two groups.
According to the report (published 12th May 2013), even though more and more people are choosing to work for themselves (3.6 million sole traders in the UK) – the expectation of hiring an employee within the next year is low, at just 9%.
What this means is that although many more entrepreneurs are blossoming out of the recession, they are planning on staying cautious. And, in such a turbulent economy, it’s difficult to blame them.
What we need to do is make it easier for these budding businesses to explore taking on additional talent, fresh ideas and new ways of thinking that will help their ideas to grow.
Obstacles to hiring
Many sole traders and startups are put off by what they see as daunting and complicated regulatory burdens of recruitment, especially when they have the day-to-day running of their fledgling company to worry about.
For many, there is a fear around taking on ‘the wrong person’ (perfectly understandable when you’re still learning about your company practises every day) – and the financial implications of a tribunal claim if it doesn’t work out.
Taking the leap from working alone to housing another member of staff can be extremely daunting, especially for young entrepreneurs who don’t necessarily believe they have the experience required to be a figure of authority.
But despite all of these things, the fact remains that in order for a business to flourish, it will need – at some point – to take on more staff.
So what’s the solution?
The value of apprenticeships and internships
For me, the untapped resource of graduate talent is a perfect fit for these sorts of companies.
Young, hungry to learn, smart and full of ideas, the newly graduated bring exactly the kind of energy required for young startups to flourish, and are much more likely to have a genuine investment in their position there from day one.
The value of apprenticeships and internships in these types of companies cannot be understated: rather than being locked into a full-time contract that may not work out, placements lasting a few months allow both sides to relax into their new roles as bosses and employees.
Both sides get to learn from each-other before deciding on whether it’s a relationship that works. The stakes are automatically lowered, meaning that taking someone new seems far less daunting. People only ever become indispensable once they’ve been immersed within a company and its culture – giving these graduates and startups a chance to ‘try out’ these practises means that far more will take a leap of faith.
Rather than demanding our fledgling entrepreneurs go from 0-60 in little-to-no time, we need to make it clear that there is a middle ground – one that can be mutually beneficial for them, and for young graduates keen to explore the career options open to them.
Of course, there are concerns. Many young companies worry about the time it would take to train a graduate or student, that actually it would mean more, not less, work for their company as a whole. Similarly, graduates worry about the stability of working for or with a startup, about the possible progression and the working conditions. But without being given the freedom and flexibility to try, neither side can possibly know the reality.
From my experience, the autonomy, empowerment and decision-making power that comes with joining a start-up perfectly suits the ambitious and passionate graduate, and the natural enthusiasm this creates within an office environment does wonders for the confidence, scope and ambition of the young entrepreneur/startup.
Helping startups to grow
With the fantastic growth in the number of small companies in the UK, we now need to focus on how we can get them growing.
At the moment, there is simply not enough promotion and publicity around the fantastic opportunities within our startups, and not nearly enough encouragement for intermediary steps between being a sole trader and hiring full-time.
Internships, placements and apprenticeship in startups will give both our unemployed youth and our fledgling entrepreneurs the boost they vitally need. We just need to help connect them. We’re kicking off a brand new series of events next month called “Untied” designed to do exactly that, connecting amazing startups all on the look-out for new talent with our first Untied careers fair in early June. It’s up to all of us to help make these connections, and to showcase the plethora of entrepreneurial career paths out there.
Rajeeb Dey is an award-winning entrepreneur and a 2012 World Economic Forum Young Global Leader. He is the founder of Enternships – a platform for students and graduates to find internships and jobs in startups and SMEs. He is also a co-founder of Start Up Britain; the national campaign to inspire, celebrate and accelerate entrepreneurship in Britain run by and for entrepreneurs and supported by HM Government.