Flicking through the pages of Monocle magazine's The Entrepreneurs Guide 2015/16 – just one of the September 2015 edition's numerous supplements – our Creative Director & CSO came across a brief but extraordinarily important interview with no less a figure than Professor Dietmar Harhoff – the richly-qualified Managing Director at Munich's Max Planck Institute for Innovation and Competition – on the increasingly crucial topic of entrepreneurship: specifically, entrepreneurship as a desirable career choice for students.
Professor Harhoff notes that the ultimate professional path for his students has changed radically in one generation: in the mid-1990s, corporate consulting was the gig of choice; around the year 2000, investment banking was all the rage; and by the mid-2000s, venture capitalism had captured his charges' imaginations. In 2015, there is only one vocation in town: entrepreneurship.
And it is easy to see why. Silicon Valley has transcended its physical location in California to become a state of mind that has permeated global culture. Its essential premise – the possibility of making billions of dollars while wearing jeans – will seem wildly attractive as well as reassuringly familiar to millennials who spend much of their waking lives interacting with products designed by many of the technology luminaries who have made the region so famous. And numerous other attributes of the contemporary entrepreneurial lifestyle – heterarchy, autonomy and flexibility – sit well with a generation which has experienced more 'horizontal' social input, solitude and uncertainty than virtually any other we are familiar with.
With this cultural shift showing no signs of atrophying, the question must now be asked: outside of the highly specialised (and presumably suitably-equipped) institutions such as those bearing the names of the likes of Professor Harhoff, what is the rest of the global education system – schools, universities, careers professionals – doing to develop this new wave of businesspeople?
At the moment – despite Silicon Valley-style entrepreneurship having become the object of satire in commercials – it cannot be escaped that institutions of learning have been frighteningly slow to provide any courses or curricula which directly address the needs of those students wanting to risk capital. The situation in schools is particular dismal. In the United Kingdom, subjects such as business studies have meagre uptake rates and in any event barely address the practical aspects of entrepreneurship. In the United States, Business Education is also a mere (albeit more popular and salient) elective course. The Chinese National Curriculum features Ideology and Political Science as a compulsory subject; entrepreneurship, even in today's China, scarcely gets a look-in. Secondary education systems as diverse as Turkey's 4+4+4 and France's baccalauréat général do not incorporate any recognisable element of entrepreneurial instruction.
And while universities around the world offer hugely popular courses in business administration and related subjects, in other subjects it is the norm for students to complete three, four or even five years of tertiary education without a single member of university staff – lecturer, supervisor, careers adviser – ever talking to them about the entrepreneurial possibilities that their studies hold for them; indeed, it is questionable if many of these employees have even given this matter serious thought.
The entrepreneurship renaissance has massive potential. Students worldwide are in love with its culture; with a little bit of creativity, governments and educators could harness this affection and slash the disgraceful youth unemployment figures that have become all too commonplace in today's world. Conversely, wasting an historic opportunity by omission is a conscious action that later generations may not forgive.