Career Employment Strategies

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Why Don't We Go for Self-employment?

For many years I managed and handled sales and marketing for a computer training centre. As part of the training mix, we offered a two year vocational course to school leavers. These courses were reliant on huge capital expenditure in terms of Apple computers as well as the software that went with it. Then we wanted all the international accreditations and those cost a fortune. In the end the course itself had to be sold for a fair amount of money to cover this as well as make a profit for expansion purposes.

During the enrollment process for a prospective student who was in the process of finishing his secondary school education, I would insist that parents or guardians and the youngster in question, would come for a one hour demo, to explain the industry, provide a basic outline of the course, one that the parents could understand as well and see whether junior looked enthusiastic enough for the hard work lying ahead of him.

One of the huge questions the parents would ask during the course of the demo was what the job opportunities were for their offspring. This seemed to be one of the most pressing questions. I could of course understand their concern. They were about to spend a fair amount of money on an education and they wanted to know whether this investment would provide a return for them and their child. This question was not as straightforward to answer. In principle the answer was yes. The publishing industry was going strong. The internet was just starting up, although still reeling from the disaster, but companies were starting to realise that they needed an online presence. This career path therefore had prospects.

However, the unknowns were the youngster's talents, work ethics, interest, perseverance, and whether he could market himself in a job interview. Besides these factors, one of the things I used to point out was that this was an industry that could also handle self-employment. Provided they worked hard during the course, they would have the skills to open up their own studio, or work as freelancers. There were therefore several options available.

The idea of self-employment never seemed to appeal to parents. The youngster generally looked quite enthusiastic about that. He would be able to do his own thing, which seemed quite attractive to him. What used to intrigue me was the fact that for parents the idea of employment was the main prize. I would imagine this stemmed from the days when life-long employment at a company was still remotely possible. Where people lived in the same house, until their kids hid them in a granny flat, so that they could get their inheritance early.

Working for somebody isn't really the first prize surely. Especially in the publishing industry, whether print or online, which requires long hours of toil, the pay is not good and the advancement opportunities for a computer operator, fairly minimal. Maybe studio/traffic/production head could be on the cards after many years of putting in long hours at the salt mines. Starting one's own little business, which also offers some benefits to write off expenses before tax, was not that unattractive one would think. The cost of computers has come down considerably in the last ten years and one definitely now gets more bang for ones bucks. And one could comfortably work from home. The entry-level risk was therefore minimal.

All these positive factors of course depended on bringing work in. And perhaps this was where the rub lay. The fear that not sufficient work would come in to cover the overheads and provide a profit stopped many an enterprising person when considering an own business. But then I felt that the risk, while living at home was minimal. Besides that the essence of starting a business is to network with anybody one knows and in the publishing industry that meant that work could come in just on the strength of that. Aunt Agatha's wedding could bring in wedding invitations, a website for the wedding so people could follow progress and download pics, and an interactive CD-ROM for the video memories. With other words a little imagination and talking to people around one could start a business quite comfortably.

The bottom line was that neither the parents nor the youngster really had sufficient self-confidence to launch a stand-alone business venture. The pay-off is like becoming a prisoner and throwing the keys to the handcuffs away. Working for somebody or some company means that the threat of the pink slip (getting fired) is always top of mind. It brings with it years of fear and insecurity. Is that fear any better than the fear of not bringing in enough work? And if one does bring in work into ones own business, it's there for one to make the money, rather than paying for a whole bunch of fat cats. Have you seen the CEO salaries lately? Fairly indecent. Who pays for that but the lowly worker bee who gets paid basic wages and who is at constant risk of getting fired or retrenched or 'retired'.

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