Friday, 21 October 2011

2.5 million looking for a job in the UK - while a billion Chinese look to start a business

I spent the summer in China with the family - combining holiday, family visit and work.  Down in hot, humid sub-tropical Hainan, China's southernmost province.  I was still able to work (virtually) in the UK, though there were times when this tested my remote working capability to the limit.  Dodgy Internet and an extensive array of exotic and invasive local fauna with anything from four to a thousand legs.  Only the dodgy Internet reminded me of Cambridgeshire.  But that's another story.

While we were in China there was a steady diet of woeful news about the UK and other Western economies.  And then the riots around the UK.  This generated a lot of concern amongst Chinese family and friends about whether my family in the UK would be safe, whether it would be safe to go back - and a general mystification as to why it all happened.

The Chinese media went to town on this.  The media is far more open and reflective than  you might expect.  Obviously there are topics to steer clear of, but on business, economics, social affairs and international affairs there's quite a lot of sharp analysis and in-depth discussion. Our soundbite and controversy-driven media could even learn a lesson or two, perhaps.

They interviewed a host of UK analysts and campaigners who always came back to the issue of disaffected youth and the lack of job prospects.  Now we find the new unemployment figures show nearly a million 16-24 year-olds unemployed.  That's serious - but it also set me thinking ...

What young person would want to spend their life making money for someone else as an employee?

It's a truism that everyone in China wants to do business.  The relentless focus on making money, getting the best deal in any situation, can be tiresome for the foreigner.  But it translates into an endless scrum of enterprise and ambition that pervades the culture.  And not least the way young people look at the world.

Down at street level are small enterprises, often involving all the family.  Street after street of small lockup shops or places where the family live over the top.  Grandma and grandpa are there to look after young children and help out as needed.  Older children come back from school, and are doing their homework in the shop/workshop/studio and helping out as needed.  Being part of a family business, then helping to run it or starting their own business is the way to go.

Sitting back and moaning at the government that there's not enough jobs, or not enough training, or that training doesn't lead to jobs - well, who would do that?

Apart from us British, of course.

The new world of work and the spirit of enterprise

So what has all this got to do with the new world of work?

We've got to stop thinking about having job opportunties and start thinking about creating value through our work.  That's what enterprise is.  And home is at the centre of creating new work.  It probably always has been.

Over 60% of startups begin life at home.  An idea + energy + motivation + good organisation.  The showcase examples lead to a Microsoft, HP, Pizza Hut, Ben & Jerry's.  But for most of us it won't - and that's OK.  It's about making a living doing something we can engage with.

Home-based businesses, small local businesses, family businesses - this is the way out of the shadow of recession.  And there have never been better circumstances to do this.  It's not all about 'knowledge workers' working fom home. 

It's about people buying and selling over the Internet, as with the burgeoning number of eBay businesses. It's about growing food in your garden and selling it, making things at home, in the garage, or at local cheap premises and selling them.  Or it's about developing skills - artistic, musical, technical - and selling yourself online.

Norman Tebbit once famously advised the unemployed in the Thatcher era to follow the example of his dad, who got on his bike and went to look for work in the 1930s depression.

75 years later, the advice should be just the opposite.  Get on your bike and go home!  Leave the un-enterprising at the Job Centre, where they can wait for a job they will hate to drop into their lap. 

Take a tip from the Orient.  Buy something. Sell something. Do something.  Make money!  And it all begins at home.

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