smart graduate

How Smart Graduates Launch In a Sour Economy

smart graduates launch

This month, we’ll begin seeing a new batch of graduates leave school to launch their career. Sadly, for most, the launch will stall. Employers scaled back hiring again last month according to the Dept of Labor. The hardest hit are the youngest workers. By the end of 2011, only about half of the 18-24 years olds in America were working. This is the lowest number since the government began collecting data back in 1948.

So, how do smart graduates launch in an economy like this? They stop looking for someone else to be their answer. Instead of looking for a job—they create one. A November 2011 survey of 500 entrepreneurs ages 21-24 found:

  • 30% of them started a business while in college; up from 19% in 2010.
  • 29% of these young adults are now self-employed, up from 20% in 2010.
  • 92% said they felt entrepreneurship education was vital given current realities.

I love this spirit. While everyone agrees that times are hard, many of these new adults aren’t waiting for some magic formula to surface to make their dreams come true. One new company, Venture for America, trains these young people who want to start a business or non-profit, in a two-year program. Companies in Massachusetts and Colorado offer paid summer internships to college students and recent grads through Start-Up America. In Atlanta, Ministry Ventures helps Christian non-profits get a head start, with office space and supplies. According to USA Today, a competition at Harvard is providing funds and workspace to teams of students who’ve proposed ideas such as a car-sharing business in India or a restaurant offering interactive menus.

I See Three Characteristics

In the stories of so many of these recent grads lie some characteristics that we adults need to encourage and sponsor in our students. They represent the spirit that made America great in the beginning. I believe they will make our future bright as well.

1. I will initiate.

By definition, leaders go first. If someone is merely imitating some else, they’re not leading. I love it when I see students grabbing opportunity by the tail and holding on. When they do, they display the capacity to take risks, take responsibility and take advantage of opportunity. They don’t ask “why?” they ask “why not?” This is what turns poor economies around. It breeds optimism.

2. I will innovate.

These youth stop looking at what everyone else is doing as a guide for their future, and instead look at what others are not doing. They look for needs; for holes in the system, for problems that need to be solved and they create solutions. By exploring current challenges instead of current categories, they jump into a “blue ocean” of potential. They love creating not copying; standing out not blending in. This breeds ideas.

3. I will instigate.

These young adults see a bigger picture and think community. They ignite change for others. From the start, their big question is not: where can I find a job? It is: how can I create jobs for others? They instigate both change and hope for people. Their attitude becomes viral. They’re not thinking addition but multiplication. They are generous big-thinkers. This breeds hope.

A twenty-one year old named Steve Jobs modeled this over three decades ago. When he founded Apple he was thinking big from the beginning. This year Apple recorded the largest quarter income in their history, and now employs thousands of people globally. And to think it all began with a twenty-something. Not long ago, president Obama held a forum on the economy. A reporter suggested America simply needs more jobs. It was then someone countered: “We don’t just need more jobs. We need more Steve Jobs.”

I’ve heard a lot of whining the last four years about our sad economy. Maybe this is one gigantic silver lining in the clouds. Just like in our country’s beginning, tough times breed this kind of entrepreneurship. And some of them are young. I love it.

May their tribe increase.

What can we do to help smart graduates launch in a sour economy?

We will discuss cultivating this kind of leader, at every level in your organization, school or youth work at our National Leadership Forum on June 28-29th in Atlanta. For info or to register, go to:

How Smart Graduates Launch In a Sour Economy