Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor

One of the greatest challenges we face as parents of young kids is guiding our children vocationally. Having attended a traditional girls-only school in the mid-eighties, our career guidance consisted of very limited choices – lawyer, doctor, teacher, accountant or nurse – and any career that didn’t somehow fit into these categories was considered at best off-beat and at worst just-plain-weird. I remember enrolling to study law at Rhodes University in 1989 where the journalist students (a.k.a. ‘journos’) were largely considered to be left-wing political activists – a group of trouble-making would-be writers who’d willingly elected to study a subject far from the mainstream, and more respectable, vocations. There was a dangerous romanticism attached to the Rhodes ‘journos’ – the more tangible version of which later emerged in the form of the ‘Bang, Bang Club’ and Kevin Carter’s unforgettable picture of the starving Sudanese child. Who would have thought that twenty years later journalism would be considered a perfectly mainstream (if not boring) career to be outsmarted by new and then-unimaginable careers that didn’t exist at the time we had our heads buried in textbooks?

In fact, who would have thought that, after years of formal tertiary training, we’d be applying for jobs as Internet Cafe Assistant, On-line Community Manager, Social Media Strategist, Distance Learning Co-ordinator and Animation Expert? Who could have foreseen the emergence of these careers? And, even if they’d been miraculously foretold, how would we ever have prepared for these jobs? And, if you for one minute think that the lapse of time between 1989 and 2012 has given rise to some remarkable vocational surprises, our children are in for an even greater challenge. The latest estimation is that 65% of children entering Grade 1 in 2012 will end up working in careers that do not yet exist. The education system that our children are currently being trained in is unarguably archaic. And worse, our kids are being educated in an economy that won’t exist by the time they’re adults. The old adage “tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor” no longer applies to this generation of Millenials who are going to reinvent the economy and the workforce in a way that we simply cannot comprehend.

I believe that in trying to offer vocational guidance to our children we need to overcome the generational disparity that exists between us and our children. Whereas many of us were raised and educated to study towards a single profession and a set career, our Millennial kids are destined not to follow this approach. Bear in mind, the Millennial children are defined as a generation by their abundance of choice – from the vast array of TV channels, access to millions of free online games, retail outlets, cell phone accessories and techno-toys – this generation doesn’t know what it means to have their choice limited. They’re also highly adventurous and, influenced largely by constant technological enhancements, this generation doesn’t generally understand the meaning of the world ‘impossible’. In my opinion, an essential key to guiding these children vocationally is ensure that we raise a generation of adaptable and change-embracing entrepreneurs. Let’s examine some ways we can achieve this:

  1. Show them: Rather than lecturing your children on the benefits of entrepreneurship, you’ll probably have more success showing them by way of example. You may be formally employed, but it doesn’t prevent you from taking the initiative to investigate other business ventures and alternative methods of generating income. A fantastic (and very easy) method of doing this is to set up a website and then monetize it. There are loads of free web-design packages out there that are relatively simple to use. If you (or your child) has a hobby or special interest, try setting up a website or blog that displays your hobby, and then monetize the site on-line. Depending on the traffic you can attract to your site, you can earn additional income just through advertising space on your site. Even if you only manage to generate a nominal income, it’ll be a great way of discussing and learning about entrepreneurship with your child. Which brings me to the next point…
  2. Involve and problem solve: Let’s involve our children in our business decisions and include them in the problem-solving processes. The best way to teach children about entrepreneurship is by involving them in real life situations. No EMS textbook can compete with hands-on experience in a real business environment. A few years ago, we decided to give our branding a face-lift by refreshing our logo and updating our strap-line. We involved our children in the process of designing our new letterheads and business cards, and making decisions regarding which photographs to use in our corporate banner. Not only were we amazed at their insight and the depth of their opinions, we were greatly encouraged by the sense of ownership they felt at having been a part of the design process.
  3. Share it: A key component of entrepreneurship is the concept of making a profit. Although we need to teach our children that not all profits can be spent, we also need to encourage them to celebrate when profits are made. We’ve encouraged our children and their friends to take part in the running of our regular waterpolo tuckshops, and we’ve been truly impressed with their knowledge and understanding of profits. Although their first profits were relatively small, together they worked out the concept of employing even nominal profits to purchase additional and more innovative stock for their next tuckshop. Faced with a choice of spending their small profit or re-employing the profit to enhance their product offering, they made the correct choice and managed to raise a whopping R4 100 in just a few months.
  4. Teach them about ownership: Apart from the potential money that can be made by owning your own business, we need to show our children the value of owning something that you built from scratch. Entrepreneurship can mean building a company or a business that has the potential to add value to society, give back to the community and leave a valuable legacy. Let’s teach our children that being an entrepreneur has a much greater purpose than just making money. This is key to raising responsible, caring and giving adults.
  5. Encourage them to take risks: A vital part of entrepreneurship is learning that you’re supposed to take (albeit calculated) risks and that failing is part of the process. In my opinion, failure is underrated in the sphere of entrepreneurship and we need to reassure our children that in order to succeed there will be times where they first have to fail.  We would do well to share with them the wise words of Thomas Edison who said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”. Accepting failure is the very essence of entrepreneurship. Let’s teach our children to embrace it.
  6. Give your children a financial education:  Educating your children constantly on the topics of money and finance is so critical to their understanding of entrepreneurship. While some people may desire and seek formal employment, it’s important for children to understand that, through entrepreneurship, they will be able to more fully control their financial futures. Reverting back to the example of the monetized website, we need to instill in our children an understanding of the power of residual income. Breaking away from the traditional, single profession approach to vocation, our children need to understand that they don’t have to trade an hour of their time for an hour’s worth of pay. They need to understand the value and benefits of doing something once (e.g. setting up a website) and then earning a passive income from it.
  7. Embrace design: Without detracting from the importance of maths and science, it is vital that we don’t under-estimate the role that design has in our children’s futures. A company’s logo, the architecture of its building, the design of it’s corporate stationery, the innovation of its website, the design of its social media feeds, the dress code of its employees, the signage on its vehicles – almost every single aspect of running a business involves an element of design. And with design packages and software being freely available on-line, the need to outsource your business’s design elements to external specialists is becoming less important. Let’s teach our children to embrace design and experiment with it unashamedly!
  8. Adopt early: Being an “early adopter” is an essential survival trait in the world of entrepreneurship. Having a mind that is completely open to all and any forms of new technology, media, strategies and methods is absolutely vital for survival. We need to encourage our children to embrace new innovations, regardless of how ridiculous they may seem as start-up concepts. The alternative to adopting early is being left behind just as early.
  9. Talk about advertising: Talk to your children about the adverts you see in magazines, on TV and on-line. Discuss how the adverts make them feel, whether it influences their desires and attitudes. Have discussions about how adverts affect their moods, their emotions and their concept of what’s important to them. Allowing children to verbalize their feelings and emotions will help them grow an appreciation for mass media and how it can influence (either positively or negatively) their thoughts and behaviour.
  10. Passion is king: A common characteristic of all successful entrepreneurs is that they are unashamedly passionate about what they do – and this attribute speaks loudly to the Millennial generation. Far from choosing the path of a single career or profession, the Millennial child is likely to be energised by finding something they’re truly passionate about and then developing innovative ways to make money from it. While our generation was fed on the concept of having a hobby or a passion that we could develop alongside our career (time permitting), the Millennial finds it difficult to fathom why their passion can’t, through innovation and adaptability, be turned into an income-spinner. Let’s teach our children just how valuable passion is. Passion drives innovation, and innovation is a cornerstone of entrepreneurship.
Twenty years ago we had no idea that, as graduates, we’d be entering an economy that was soon to burst forth a plethora of unimaginable careers. Now, as parents, we’re indeed facing the unknown when it comes to guiding our children towards successful financial futures. What we do know is that the essential elements for survival will include entrepreneurship, adaptability, innovation and risk-taking. As Mark Twain so rightly observed: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Let’s encourage our children to do just that.
Have a super weekend!
When we left varsity twenty years ago, there was no such thing as an 'online community'!

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