Don’t just hope – make your own career

Young people now face a triple-dip recession of jobs, opportunities and prospects – but we can do more than just hope for the best

In ‘The Pursuit of Happyness’, starring Will Smith and his son Jaden, the character Christopher Gardner Jr. tries to entertain his distracted father on a brisk walk through busy San Francisco, with the following story:

‘There was a man who was drowning, and a boat came, and the man on the boat said “Do you need help?" and the man said "No thanks, God will save me". Then another boat came and he tried to help him, but he said "No thanks, God will save me", then he drowned and went to Heaven. Then the man asked God, "God, why didn't you save me?" and God said "I sent you two big boats, you dummy!’

It is perhaps a bit of a convoluted metaphor for the plight of the soon-to-be graduate (and God forbid I should compare the state with, well, God), but it is relevant nonetheless. The analogy lies in the opportunities we may happen to miss, just as the drowning man overlooked his saviours. It’s easy to simply resign ourselves to fate, to keep our heads down at university and have faith that the current job market 'abyss', as it was described by NUS outgoing President Liam Burns last week, will have improved by the time we graduate. 

Indeed as most students will have been doing exactly that for the last four years, one pities those who can do so no more – the supposedly ‘doomed’ graduates of summer 2013. In two months they will be faced with reality, while the rest of us can cling on to the relative luxury of helpless optimism, for a year or two more. When over 1m young people can expect to be unemployed this year, what can any student do, but hope?

The answer, of course, is to act. Not simply in academic studies, not just through the part-time job applications and unpaid internships, to which so many cannot devote the time or money required anyway. There are alternatives available – but we need to be braver.

Whether you agree with its methods or not, the government is trying to reduce unemployment. While the seemingly immortal Thatcherite ideals - the individualism, the laissez-faire attitude – may have entrenched policy wherever we look, it benefits no one if students do not take advantage of the opportunities that are provided. Those opportunities ebb and flow in their nature and guise – at this moment in time it seems, they take the form of enterprise.

Any Internet search will bring up an immense volume of information on business advice organisations, enterprise events, and, most importantly, funding available to students and young people specifically. A £112m government scheme called ‘Start-Up Loans’, with ex-Dragon’s Den star James Caan at the helm, supported 1,000 young entrepreneur last month. It currently offers advice and funding to 100 new businesses every week.

Universities are heeding encouragement to be more involved than ever as well - the PM's enterprise advisor said last month that higher education should “instil the very concept of enterprise” into young people. Your degree subject is almost irrelevant – anyone who has sat watching TV and blurted out, “you know what would be good?” has the potential to start a business. Almost all universities have Entrepreneur or Enterprise Societies open to all (if yours doesn’t – why not set one up?), and campus competitions and events are ubiquitous. 

Newcastle University Business School, for example, has organised an event entitled Lions’ Den – an opportunity for students’ start-ups and registered businesses to 'showcase their zest for entrepreneurship' to investors, local business people, alumni and the wider public, with a £5,000 prize fund for those who impress the ‘Lions’ the most.  As Doug Rchards, another ex-Dragon and supporter of the event, says, “entrepreneurship and the entrepreneur are the locomotive engines that drive local, regional and national economic growth and competitiveness.” 

Few would deny that a driving movement of young enterprise would do the nation’s economic climate a world of good (if the selfish motives aren’t convincing enough). It is daunting for us who see ourselves as amateurs, the mere apprentice citizens of a student realm, where the term's income and expenditure mean 'loan’s in, I’m going out' rather than relating to investment and overheads. But we must not become the drowning man – the advice, funding and support already in place makes young enterprise in 2013 a fantastic opportunity. A bit of imagination, and a few of the proverbial ‘cojones’, is all that is required to reach out and grab it.

The first annual NU Lions’ Den will take place at Newcastle University Students’ Union on 24 April.  For more details of the event, click here.