Millennials are the Peter Pan Generation. The vast majority of them are yet to begin their careers and very few of them are going to stick with one career during their entire lifespan. While this might be because millennials have never been called upon to do anything significant, the laws that a graying Congress passes and an aging White House signs probably aren’t going to help millennials move out of their parents’ basements. Entrepreneurship and self-employment might be the only way millennials have to avoid becoming the next Japan, where the rising generation is defined only by its lack of ambition.
This is not to say that millennials are particularly entrepreneurial. There are some cases of great millennial entrepreneurs, such as Mark Zuckerberg. But, when compared with the great entrepreneurs of American history, the biggest names of the millennial generation haven’t done much. It is hard to imagine any millennial entrepreneur striking off from home to found his or her own business like J. R. Simplot or Henry Ford (who went off on their own at 14 and 16, respectively).
Millennials’ parents and grandparents seemed to believe that the world only needed a generation which could maintain what had already been built. The world didn’t need employers; it needed employees. This was by and large why college majors came to resemble job training programs for jobs that were just waiting to be filled (bachelor of applied sciences in laboratory technology, anyone?)
But it is becoming increasingly clear that the economy is unable to sustain the millennials who want to join. Without more entrepreneurship, millennials will be unemployed for a very long time. This is bad news. millennials were trained to be employees, not entrepreneurs. But the good news is that even as millennials’ educations are letting them down, technology is offering opportunities for them to prop themselves back up again.
In terms of technical resources, there has never been a better opportunity to be an entrepreneur. It’s possible to rent your sofa out as a hotel alternative, or to do someone’s Turbotax for them, or to deliver food to seven different homes in an hour and make $4 each time. None of these are the jobs that any millennial dreamed of having, but in many cases they probably pay better and take less time.
Most millennial entrepreneurs will be running single-head shops. (Some might open an operation with a girlfriend or boyfriend.) But, for millennials who are looking to become employers, the best thing they can do is to try to give their employees the autonomy to add value to the business on their own. It has never been easier to pay match people’s pay level with the tasks they accomplish, rather than the hours that they spend. And this is probably the direction the world is moving in.
Will millennials learn this before waking up in their parents’ basements and remembering that it is their fortieth birthday? Maybe. Sometimes, living a life like the one your parents had requires getting the job that you thought would only ever be done by a teenager.