Where are the jobs? That’s the question every young person — and many who are not so young — are asking. The Occupy Wall Street movement and the Arab Spring were ostensibly protests about corporate greed and oppressive regimes, but they not surprisingly arose when young people throughout the world were unable to find jobs.
Unemployment among young people in many countries exceeds 25 percent. In the United States, despite increases in jobs over the last several months, unemployment among job seekers between ages 20 and 24 is 14.6 percent — in Maine 16.2 percent — but many believe the real numbers are much larger when the underemployed and those who are not officially job-searching are taken into account.
In his book “The Coming Jobs War,” Gallup CEO Jim Clifton concludes that job creation has become the top leadership challenge. In reporting the results of a worldwide survey, Clifton indicates that “getting a good job” emerged as the top priority of all responders. Clifton points out that there are only 1.2 billion jobs for 3 billion job seekers worldwide — a 1.8 billion shortage. He attributes many of the world’s troubles to this shortage.
Unemployment figures do not differentiate between jobs and “good” jobs, but we know that more than half the people below the poverty line in our country have jobs, but not good jobs. And many of the jobs lost in recent years are being replaced by lower-paying jobs.
Blame the economic crisis, cutbacks in government payrolls, an undereducated workforce, a global economy that shifts work to low-cost regions, and technological advances that increase productivity and reduce the need for labor. There are no easy solutions to a problem that must be attacked on many fronts.
The Entrepreneurial Mindset
On one such front, we have to harness our pragmatic spirit to create a society of job creators, and train the next generation to think like entrepreneurs with an ability to discover opportunities and build organizations to meet economic and social need.
Educating a generation with an entrepreneurial mindset does not necessarily mean that young people would start their own businesses and become self-employed. We misuse the word “entrepreneur” when we think only of those who start new small businesses.
The entrepreneurial mindset searches out opportunity, and it’s done in large businesses as well as small ones. It arises out of dissatisfaction with the status quo and an urgency to find a better way to do something. By its nature, it disrupts or takes advantage of disruption. It may result in a startup, but it’s also the mindset that employers are looking for in new hires.
In “The New Entrepreneurial Leader,” three faculty members at Babson College describe how they are trying to develop leaders with an ability to shape social and economic opportunity. It’s about teaching students to have what they call “cognitive ambidexterity,” which is an ability to analyze data to discover the knowable but also to exercise the imagination to create new opportunities. Entrepreneurial leaders engage in “action learning,” which is a willingness to move forward with incomplete knowledge realizing they will have to adjust as more information becomes known.
The new entrepreneurial leaders harness their own interests and passions in developing opportunities and they learn to forge partnerships through networking to create successful new ventures. In one instance of entrepreneurial leadership, the authors tell the story of two passionate environmentalists at Clorox who chose action over a more traditional business analysis approach to create a natural cleaning product line, Green Works, through a partnership with the Sierra Club.
Peter Drucker, the foremost management theorist in the 20th century, identified sources of systematic entrepreneurship, places where we can find innovative opportunity. Drucker advises us to look for the unexpected, whether a success or failure, because both give important information about the market.
Look also for incongruities because they are a sign of change. The increasing demand for health care and the increasing costs point to such an incongruity, which has been exploited by walk-in clinics and stand-alone surgical centers.
Finding more efficient ways of doing something offers another source for innovation. After seeing the slaughterhouses in Chicago, Henry Ford adopted a process that had never been applied to the automotive industry: the assembly line. The McDonald brothers did the same thing for the food industry with “Speedee Service System.” And now higher education is being transformed by new technologies that are replacing the traditional classrooms.
Changes in demographics, public perception and new knowledge are other sources of innovation. An aging population, an immigrant population and a youth population all give rise to new opportunities. Changes in living standards in emerging economies open up opportunities. Changes in perception about the environment and healthy lifestyles are also sources of entrepreneurial opportunities. And new discoveries in bioscience, information systems and advanced materials provide still others.
We have to recognize that even as the economy recovers, many old jobs will never come back. It will take entrepreneurial know-how to create new jobs, and to get the best results we must foster entrepreneurial activity in a systematic way.
Joseph McDonnell is dean of the College of Management and Human Service at the University of Southern Maine, and faculty member in the Muskie School of Public Service. He formerly served as dean of the College of Business at Stony Brook University in New York, and has held executive management positions within both Fortune 500s and start-ups.