This month SBT casts its spotlight over mentoring and youth enterprise

Business mentoring is certainly nothing new but more recently the focus is centring more on younger people looking to become their own boss. This is perhaps due to greater recognition of young people’s business ideas and their potential, and the value of nurturing this from a younger age, as well as exploring another avenue that could help to ensure the continued health and growth of the country’s economy.

dreamstime_xl_19469398Interest is being built in schools too, many of which are becoming more adept at promoting enterprise and entrepreneurial thinking themselves, running sessions around topics such as CV writing and interview skills, and bringing in local business people and professionals such as bank managers to explain what they do, as well as to build links.

Another factor is that youth unemployment is still high following the economic problems of 2008 – something which has consequently left many young people in a state of worry, confusion and frustration with regard to their futures – and this has given rise to a movement towards building another viable route in to employment for young people: entrepreneurship. People from all walks of life have begun to get behind the idea that starting up in business is now very much a viable means for young people to earn a living. Indeed, research by the Federation of Small Businesses has shown that unemployed people are now more likely to find work through self-employment than within large firms.

However, the practicalities of setting up such a venture with no support would of course be daunting for all but the most optimistic and risk-happy, and there are no doubt many potentially viable businesses that never go beyond the drawing board each year. There are also young people who will have created businesses and achieved a reasonable level of success but then find that they cannot take their business further due to lack of experience or specialist knowledge. It has been said that access to experience and guidance plays a greater role in being the catalyst for success than access to finance, and this is where mentoring comes in. There’s no doubting the benefit of having an experienced hand to guide you – it’s estimated that around a third of young entrepreneurs fail to make it past their first year, compared to just 1 in 10 of those over the age of 30.

You might think that most would be happy to have someone with experience to help guide them, but in a piece about the value of mentoring, Richard Branson highlighted that sometimes younger entrepreneurs may struggle to fully acknowledge that they could benefit from finding a mentor:

Understandably there’s a lot of ego, nervous energy and parental pride involved, especially with one or two-person start-ups factors that tend to manifest themselves in a cocoon-like state of mind where, ‘Only I/we get it and nobody else can possibly help make this thing work’. Trust me: they can and they will. Going it alone is an admirable but foolhardy and highly flawed approach to taking on the world.

Well, there’s a piece of advice that’s probably worth taking on board.

There are a fair number of well-known organisations that run mentoring programmes, including: 

  • Young Enterprise – Founded in 1962, the charity aims to empower young people to fully harness their personal and business skills.
  • The Prince’s Trust Enterprise Programme – Helps people aged 18-30 to turn big ideas into a business reality by providing advice, guidance and support. The programme has helped over 80,000 young people to start their own business since 1983.
  • Entrepreneurial Spark – A business accelerator whose mission is to encourage entrepreneurship through the development of entrepreneurial mindset and behaviours.
  • RBS Inspiring Enterprise – The headline aim for the Inspiring Youth branch is to help 100,000 young people to explore enterprise, develop their skills and start up in business, whatever their background. As of April 2016, they have helped 114,059 people and created 1,164 businesses.

    Mentoring is not confined to those with specific business aspirations. It has also been recognised as an effective means of supporting disadvantaged youngsters as well as those not in education, employment, or training (sometimes referred to as NEET) to use their time meaningfully and work towards gainful employment.

    For example, the Positive Placements project, run by the YMCA Downslink Group provides one-to-one mentor support through volunteers from within local communities for young people in Brighton and Mid Sussex to overcome issues that they are facing, such as anxiety, low confidence, lack of experience or skills, lack of qualifications and issues with mental health.

    A YMCA DLG resident and Positive Placements mentee said: “My mentor has been absolutely superb. We first assessed what my end goals were in terms of further education and have now moved on to the subject of how to get there. As I have a long term illness that affects my mobility, it has been valuable to have someone to talk to about it not controlling my life and being able to do what I want, which is to get into education.”

    There are benefits too for the mentors themselves. For a start, mentoring is an effective way of further developing ones own skills – such as communication and leadership skills – and business knowledge at the same time as imparting them to others. It also improves networking, presenting opportunities to meet and work alongside like-minded business people; as well as recruitment potential, allowing engagement with the emerging workforce. And there are many more benefits besides.

    So why not lend a hand and play a part in inspiring the next generation of entrepreneurs? There’s very little to lose but so much to gain.