How do young people engage with self-employment?

Aug 25, 2022

Youth Futures Foundation’s Strategy Manager, Ryan Howsham, and TSIP Consultant, Georgina Hammerton, set out why more research is needed to understand what drives young people from marginalised backgrounds to pursue self-employment.

Youth Futures is delighted to be working with The Social Innovation Partnership (TSIP) and Word on The Curb (WOTC) on a piece of ‘discovery’ research, to find out more about the various kinds of self-employment viable for young people from marginalised backgrounds. Importantly, this research strives to gain insight into the support and barriers young people face in engaging in high ‘quality’ self-employment. We hope to uncover what quality self-employment looks like for this group.

In recent years, buoyed by the expansion in digital technology and social media, we are seeing increasing numbers of young people interested in ditching more traditional modes of work in place of managing their own business venture, microbusiness or side hustles. This has led to new terms such as “kidpreneurs” – young people who are finding new methods to earn income through enterprise or innovation. 

At the same time, we know that experiences of the “system” and routes into sustainable work are not felt equally by all young people. For young people who face disadvantage or discrimination, reflecting their overall experience of the labour market, we know that they are more likely to face significant and complex barriers to turning self-employment into good quality, sustainable work. 

These findings were highlighted in a piece of research funded by Youth Futures in 2021, conducted by Clearview Research that examined the rise of the young entrepreneur. The research was conducted with a group who were predominantly from Black, Asian and other minoritised ethnic backgrounds. It showed that most participants had faced some form of discrimination or prejudice in their entrepreneurial journey. Over half of the young people in this research were exploring entrepreneurship (58%).

Further research by TSIP and Make Shift Create, ‘Disruptive Futures’, has focused on the Creative and Digital Industry and engaging entrepreneurial ‘Disruptors’. It uncovered that when faced with barriers to entering this way of working, disruptors used innovative methods to forge their own path. There is a profound disconnect between the sector and Disruptors. The pandemic, and growing social justice movements like Black Lives Matter (BLM) have brought this disconnect to the forefront. While many industries across the sector have struggled to adapt as a result of the pandemic, we continue to see Disruptors establish themselves and operate successfully in this landscape.

A range of factors drive young people from marginalised backgrounds to choose self-employment pathways. However, Youth Futures’ Evidence and Gap Map shows that there is a lack of evidence showing us what works in relation to self-employment for those groups of young people. We need to know more about what drives and maintains quality, sustainable routes to self-employment.

That’s why we’re partnering on a short research project to generate insights about how young people (especially from marginalised backgrounds) actually engage in self-employment – and to provide a better understanding of the issues they face. The project will review the literature and data, undertake primary data collection with young people and organisations who support young people in self-employment, and provide us with a basis on which Youth Futures, TSIP and others with an interest in the issue, can design further learning and action. To allow us to understand the way that young people view and interact with self-employment, Word on the Curb will also provide an in-depth social media analysis to accompany this piece and provide further insight.

We look forward to sharing the findings later this year.

Anna Darnell, Head of Strategy & Partnerships at Youth Futures, said:

“This is a crucial topic that is only going to become more important as our economies and the shape of what we mean by “work” continue to evolve. This research will enable us to better understand what we mean by self-employment, who is accessing it and in what ways. Importantly, it will allow us to examine this issue through the lens of young people who have been underserved by the system, for whom the need to find routes in sustainable work is more pronounced. We are delighted to be working with The Social Innovation Partnership to do this, and hope that together this work will provide a foundation on which further impactful investment can be built.”  

Amira Tharani, Head of Research, Learning & Evaluation at TSIP, said:

“We believe that research should be used in the service of better design and decision-making. We’re really excited to work with Youth Futures on researching the nature of youth self-employment, in order to co-design targeted support for young people with those young people themselves. We are looking forward to working with a group of young people as peer researchers, and they will have a key role in shaping this project and its recommendations.”

Ndubuisi Uchea, CEO at Word on The Curb, said:

“At Word on the Curb, we desire to work with brands that have a genuine care for the interests of young people and minority groups. With a research-first approach, we’re excited to be able to work on this project with TSIP and Youth Futures to unpack, and then shape, the narrative of what young people look for across all elements of self-employment. As the co-founder of Word on the Curb, a business I started in earnest when I was 22, this is something extremely close to my heart. “

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