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Entrepreneurship on the career continuum: Opportunities for career services

In this article, Mark Venning responds to the CERIC-funded, Sheridan Centre for Elder Research-led report The Status of Senior Entrepreneurship in Canada: A Snapshot. The report provides much-needed Canadian data about the needs and interests of senior entrepreneurs, as well as recommendations on how to support them.

Entrepreneurship in later life is not a new pursuit. During the mid 1990s, in my work as an independent consultant at a corporate career centre, serving employees in transition through a massive downsizing, a significant number of clients over age 50 began to explore entrepreneurship as an option.

Access to the subject was open to everyone within the overall program, with seminars delivered alongside those for traditional job search skills. However, the process of individual entrepreneurial assessment and application to funded coaching support were rigorous.

With all sorts of motivations and a wide range of ideas – from franchising to home-based craft businesses, yoga studios to freelance consulting – these people led the parade in what today seems to be part of the inevitable evolution of an aging demographic. Remember David Foot’s 1996 Boom, Bust & Echo?

Fast forward. Job insecurity prompted by the 2008 recession and increased workplace churn are two factors that have bolstered interest in entrepreneurship not just in the 50-plus demographic, but also in younger generations. I meet some of these people as a mentor at Futurpreneur – a funded program for aspiring business owners aged 18-39.

For study purposes, if we must pick a marker for later-life entrepreneurs as 50-plus, then so be it. From my perspective, through the hundreds of coaching conversations I’ve had over the years, entrepreneurship can be an imposing or daunting proposition at any age. The issues in starting and running a business are much the same, anything from cash-flow management to executing an effective marketing strategy.

Many clients feel more comfortable using the term self-employed, frequently seen as creating a job for oneself, than entrepreneur. For example, for someone in their 60s who is post-full-time job but says they can’t afford or don’t want to retire, it is a means to replace or supplement their income. Also, entrepreneurial encounters are often episodic and variant in nature – less about age, more about stage in their life course.

It is notable that according to Statistics Canada, the self-employment rate has not seen a measurable climb, averaging around 15.3% over the last five years. Even during economic downturns it never reached 16%. Yet if this trend of 50-plus entrepreneurs is all it’s reported to be, then maybe it is an opportunity for career services to be more responsive to this under-appreciated reality.

Career services (from employment centres to career transition firms) have not typically geared programs to treat entrepreneurship in a robust way. Services largely target the delivery of traditional employment or career counselling, leaving entrepreneurship relegated to a marginal position. Perhaps the mandates of career services, driven by the funders, have not considered the trends or the statistics detailed by segmented age cohorts.

In the Sheridan report, respondents to the question “Did you access services to assist you?” said that they accessed career counselling organizations (8.23%) and employment centres (7.59%) for entrepreneurial support. This spells opportunity to me.

Let me provoke here. Should we not look at preparing career counsellors to talk about entrepreneurship well before we look at who is accessing their services? In Canada, for those seeking work as a career development practitioner, where in the college courses can they find a comprehensive stream for entrepreneurship? Today, entrepreneurship is wide in scope with an abundance of options, from Uber-like services to knowledge-based consulting to social entrepreneurship. Side hustles and entrepreneurial portfolios are common for anyone at any age and stage.

Given our current perplexity around precarious employment, I submit that entrepreneurship should be positioned equally in career development curriculum, alongside traditional employment and career paths, which are constantly being challenged with great rapidity. The future of work stops for no one. In that sense, we will all need to be more entrepreneurial in our approach. As I see it, regardless of age and moment in our life course, we are all, in effect, “next decade enterprisers.”

One key attribute of an entrepreneur is resourcefulness. If you are a director of a career service organization and you want to differentiate, make a business case for supporting later-life entrepreneurship. Do not wait for a government initiative to get started. You have to reflect an enterprising mindset to model the realities your clients are going to face.

Hire or find a point person to lead in an entrepreneurial advisory role, bulk up a resource directory, design a seminar series on entrepreneurial opportunities (including roles in the gig economy) and make sure every coaching or counselling conversation contains at least a probe or exploration of the possibilities of entrepreneurship. Even designing an introductory webinar can be a good place to start.

To further expand your research, here are two other reports you may find interesting:

Fraser Institute – Demographics and Entrepreneurship: Mitigating the Effects of an Aging Population

Global Entrepreneurship Monitor – Special Topic Report 2016/17: Senior Entrepreneurship

Mark Venning is founder of Change Rangers, Recoding a Longevity Society– researcher, advisor, speaker and blogger on the business and social aspects of aging demographics. His expertise in career & talent development over 20 years has found him working in both the corporate and not-for-profit sectors. Venning is a past board chair for CERIC.

Lindsay Purchase

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