Unemployment, student debt, unaffordable housing costs -- these are just some of the problems facing the generation about to take the reins of our economy. Millennials are considered to be anyone born between 1982 and 2002, and they are currently more than 80 million strong. A large majority of them are now in their 20s and 30s and anxious to establish careers and start families. Yet, a recent report from Georgetown University outlines what most working-age millennials already know: they are losing ground to previous generations. Writer Ryan Donegan has even labeled them "generation frustration."
For the last five years, unemployment has remained stubbornly high for millennials. A Harvard study within the past year found just 62 percent of millennials are working, and, of those, half have only part-time jobs. The sad truth is that millennials may never find enough jobs to meet the demand. That's because today's rapid pace of innovation is constantly making many jobs obsolete, and there is always a lag before new ones take their place. A 2013 analysis at Oxford University quoted last month in The Economist presents a gloomy forecast, "47% of today's jobs could be automated in the next two decades."
Based on my seven decades of business experience, I can see only one solution: millennials must create their own jobs. The good news is that in several respects, there has never been a better time to be an entrepreneur, and millennials are uniquely suited for today's wired and continually evolving marketplace. After all, they are often referred to as the Net Generation, and according to a recent Entrepreneur Magazine article quoting a Rasmussen College infographic, "60 percent of millennials surveyed consider themselves entrepreneurs, with ideas, capital and plans for startup endeavors." However, in my opinion and based on the research that Harvard presented outlining that nearly 40 percent of millennials are unemployed, we need a greater number of experienced entrepreneurs and business leaders to step forward to do more to foster entrepreneurship with millennials and fast. That's why, at age 90, I have not been sitting on the sidelines and continue to push forward where I can to encapsulate what I gained from my successful journey as an entrepreneur into easily shared and accessible materials, like an e-book, that can reach millennials immediately.
When I started my first entrepreneurial enterprise back in 1946, capital requirements and risk factors for new business ventures were much more challenging. Today, basic tech skills and extensive social media experience enable young people to start their journey as entrepreneurs with just a laptop, a few books that offer tips, some business apps, and a WiFi connection. A few keyboard clicks are all they need to reach thousands, even millions of potential customers with the right proposition and story about their brand. When I started my first business, office rent, long distance phone bills, and print and radio advertising costs were all impacting my bottom line.
Now, businesses can be primarily digital and much more cost effective in the start-up phase. Entrepreneurs can launch their businesses from the comfort of their homes and directly monitor transactions, inventory levels, bank balances, etc. Moreover, programs like Skype allow them to reach suppliers and customers around the world, establishing face-to-face relationships with a minimum of expense and breath-taking immediacy. In addition, they can choose their own work hours and even locate their headquarters in a coffee shop, sending their products anywhere with the help of shipping companies.
Another factor favoring an entrepreneurial path for millennials is their youth. Time is one thing they have in abundance, and this is an asset they shouldn't overlook. The simple fact is they don't have much else to risk. Either by circumstance or by personal choice, many are deciding to marry and start families later in life. This gives them an enviable flexibility to pursue new ventures before the pressures of taking new risks rise to insurmountable levels.
Two other characteristics that I believe work in millennials favor are their familiarity with multi-tasking and their willingness to collaborate with peers. While the former is an ability that doesn't always translate to a better work product, it is an essential mindset for aspiring entrepreneurs. When you're the boss of a start-up, success depends on wearing many hats and keeping track of a myriad of details. Likewise, being a team-oriented player is also a vital quality that millennials understand. Yes, entrepreneurs have an independent streak, but today, you can't succeed without immersing yourself in a variety of social media networks to grow a business. You might be your only employee, but your product or service is often part of a larger project, which relies on the work of others. Profits depend on embedding your company in a web of partnerships and maintaining a robust online presence so that those seeking your products or services can actually find you.
One solution to reduce millennial unemployment that will not help: encouraging older adults to retire early. This seems counter intuitive, but as the Georgetown study explains, "When older adults delay retirement, they are healthier, consume less public benefits, pay more taxes, and contribute to higher levels of economic growth. The relationship between young and old is positive sum, not zero or negative sum."
Overall, those of us in the established business community should do all we can to assist millennial entrepreneurs to develop and flourish. Innovation is the key to keeping America on top, and innovation is at the heart of success for an entrepreneur. In my opinion, pairing millennials with entrepreneurship is an ideal match. Today's young people have just the right qualities of creativity and vision that will serve them and all of us well. Now is the time for older, successful entrepreneurs to not just pass the torch but to do so with healthy amounts of encouragement and enthusiasm and lots of volunteer mentoring.
It is my absolute passion to pass on insights I've gained as a global entrepreneur of nearly 70 years, and at the age of 90, the most effective method for me to reach the millions of millennials was to put it all down in writing, to share my own "Evolution of an Entrepreneur" experience with others. But I ask those in leadership positions and fellow established entrepreneurs to do their part to make passing the torch to the millennials a smooth exchange.
Jack Nadel is the author of the award-winning book, "The Evolution of an Entrepreneur: Featuring 50 of My Best Tips for Surviving and Thriving in Business" -- winner of five Global Ebook Awards including three Gold Awards for BEST in Business, Leadership and Careers/Employment (www.JackNadel.com). He is the founder and chairman emeritus of Jack Nadel International, a global leader in the specialty advertising and marketing industry. Jack, founder of more than a dozen companies worldwide, is also the author of other books, including, "There's No Business Like Your Bu$iness, How to Succeed in Business Without Lying, Cheating or Stealing," "Cracking the Global Market," and "My Enemy, My Friend."