OPINION

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Coping in the gig economy
I have watched many children navigate the process of becoming self-directed individuals. Some have a spark and a gift for seeing opportunities and resolving problems, finding work and thriving in it. Not all are so gifted. Many spend time trying to find that vital first job. And all the time the real number of ‘jobs’ is falling, and resume after resume is sent off (and rarely acknowledged). At last, at last, the penny is dropping: it is beginning to dawn on us that in educating for jobs, we have been chasing the wrong boat; and missing it.
Despite the mantra ‘jobs and growth’, jobs, as we used to understand them, are becoming extinct. In the private sector the supply of ‘paid positions of regular employment’ is simply vanishing as more and more people are engaged by way of short-term contracts, irregular scheduling and with few privileges such as paid holiday and sick leave. This has not been lost on long-range education thinkers and they are starting to argue for teaching entrepreneurship in schools. But there is still considerable uncertainty as to whether entrepreneurs are born or made, which has led to an ongoing debate about whether we can actually teach individuals to
be entrepreneurs.
There are some things that cannot be taught, only learned. This learning should be centred in the student, not the teacher. But to achieve this, the student has to want to learn: in schools a recurrent question is “What use is this subject to me?”. Given this, one of the key questions we might raise in this debate is how useful might an education in entrepreneurship be?
Another question arises here: schools, in the main, think, and work, inside the square. But successful entrepreneurs operate outside it, and their tendency to non-conformity underpins
their success.
To succeed, they have to be alert for it all the time and present themselves accordingly. If they are to be entrepreneurs, they will need to operate on their own initiative. The great Carl Linnaeus, himself an entrepreneur who laid the foundation of how we classify objects in our natural universe, received many resumes, often on behalf of children of wealthy parents who wanted him to take their child on as a pupil. His method of sorting them out was to sit the candidate down with, say, a dead fish, and invite them to write an essay on it. Now, some children see: others don’t. The failure rate was very high. Those that can see will ask questions, they will have an active sense of curiosity and exercise it. The children that Linnaeus took on were of this kind. Try looking at a fish for yourself and writing 500 words about it. You might be surprised at the results. My criteria for entrepreneurship include the ability to see, define, react.
There are opportunities everywhere. With the right mindset you are open to the unusual and the different. The tendency to travel has always been with us; so has the need to find ways of carrying whatever it is we want to take with us. Luggage, it’s called, or baggage. We have to ‘lug’ it about. We used to use wheeled trollies to make the task easier. We did this for centuries until one day in 1970, one Bernard Sadow built a suitcase with integral wheels, pulled with a loose strap. Then in 1987, an airline pilot invented the telescopic retractable handle, making the task of moving your suitcase around even easier. Wheeled luggage is now everywhere.
Inventing, innovating, is not the same as being an entrepreneur. Inventing may be a first step. To be an entrepreneur you have to see the inherent possibilities in something and develop and apply the means of exploiting them. This may require you to start a business which is in itself a challenging part of being an entrepreneur. It is not an easy way to wealth. It can be challenging, and at the same time enormously satisfying. For a long time I have shared my life with a business woman-entrepreneur: it is a salutary experience. She made herself a success by exploiting skills learned from her female ancestors. She worked many hours a week, took a minimum wage, never borrowed money, developed an international profile, and eventually sold her business to establish her own superannuation. She is an entrepreneur. I know a number of others.
John Fleming II

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