We have a business start-up problem, and there’s something Pathway Programs and Pathway Systems can do to help. According to a World Bank researcher writing a report for The Center for American Progress, the rates of individuals in the U.S. starting businesses grew significantly in the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s. At the beginning of this period, about 3 percent of Americans started a new business every year, and it grew up to 5 percent. But since the early 2000’s, that percentage of new business start-ups has stagnated and even fallen. If previous trends had continued, we would now have 1 million more entrepreneurs than we actually do in the United States.[i]
It seems likes it is getting harder or riskier to start a business. Now, the average person starting a business is older than in the past (47 years vs. 41 years), has more college education (67% vs. 60%) and also needs more savings/capital than in the past.
These are mega-trends that I’m sure are driven by many forces. But it is holding the middle class back from job creation and income growth. And it reinforces the need for stronger entrepreneurship and micro-enterprise training across all our nation’s career pathways and career-related programming.
Traditional career technology education programs, in large part, were built primarily around technical skills as well as developing general workplace employability skills. But during the heyday of American industry, we had an expectation that individuals would work for large organizations. So traditional CTE programs were focused on developing “workers,” not business owners.
For many career technical education programs, the only real place that entrepreneurship was emphasized was inside some of the business education programs. Now, this dynamic has changed a bit, although I don’t know if there is any definitive research. I have seen and heard about career-related programs having units around entrepreneurship and small business management relating to the particular career areas – such as starting a hair salon, a restaurant, or doing estimating for a construction company.
While progress has been made, I suspect there is still massive room for expansion of entrepreneurship training. Even for the students that don’t have the natural temperament or interest in becoming an entrepreneur themselves, they may very well work in a micro-enterprise (1-3 people) or a very small business (fewer than 10 people), where they will be interacting with the business owner/founder on a day-to-day basis. Every “worker” in these small enterprises needs to think like a business owner and understand how their work intersects with sales, marketing, customer services, human resources, and strategy — identifying opportunities for new business growth. I’m blessed to have colleagues in NC3T that think this way.
So, we may still need stand-alone entrepreneurship training for individuals who are highly enterprising by temperament and who just want to be in business — any type of business. But many others are drawn first to the career and skills; these folks need to understand entrepreneurship within the context of a particular career or occupation. To address this important need, our schools should create entrepreneurship strands that connect to and support all of our career-pathway and CTE programs.
To further this work, we have included entrepreneurship and small business concepts into the integrated definition of Career and Life Readiness that NC3T uses with its pathway system implementation sites.
So, as we pursue our motto of “Every Learner with a Dream and Plan,” we should remember that part of that dream and plan is for every learner to think about and consider how to one day be a business owner; the dream and plan is not just to find economic opportunity for oneself, but to offer it to others too through a growing and thriving enterprise!
[i]Mondragón-Vélez, C. (2015, May 21). How does middle-class financial health affect entrepreneurship in America? Retrieved from https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/economy/report/2015/05/21/109169/how-does-middle-class-financial-health-affect-entrepreneurship-in-america/