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Teaching tommorow's entrepreneurs
Independent business owners are made, not born
Detroiter Magazine (reprinted with permission)
By Donald Reimer, CMC

For more than 20 years, I’ve been involved in fostering the development of family-owned businesses. I’ve personally assisted in the birth of new businesses, and the experience has been both challenging and reward- ing. To see someone get his or her hands around an idea and bring it to life is what the American dream is all about.

Today, the entrepreneur’s role in the job-creation process is vital to our economy. In the years ahead, the largest number of new job opportunities will be created by closely-held family businesses. 

I firmly believe that the future of Michigan’s economy lies in the stimulation of entrepreneurial thinking. We must begin to identify entrepreneurial skills at a younger age. And we must develop the curricula that teach the skills of successful business ownership.

My teaching experience has drawn me into the classroom, where students tell me that they find it hard to see themselves as employers. When I ask them why, the answer is often that the entrepreneurial opportunity just hasn’t been brought to their attention by family members, friends, or the school itself. Most school curricula tend to focus on obtaining a job-on working for someone else. This emphasis puts students on the road to dependency; it certainly does not foster entrepreneurship.

"The future of Michigan's economy lies in entrepreneurial thinking."

But it is exactly in youth that the fires of the entrepreneurial spirit must be kindled. Many studies have found strong evidence that the family unit can play a key role in fostering self-employment. That’s why schools and families must work together to recognize and develop the entrepreneurial traits that exist in young people. And teachers, counselors and the small-business community must expose young people to the opportunities of business ownership.

You may think that I believe that self-employment is for everyone. I certainly don’t. My point is that we’ve gone too far in the other direction; we’re talking, teaching and acting as if working for someone else were the only alternative, when for some, it may not be the better choice at all. 

I find it surprising that people still believe that they "own" a job. People who work for others don’t "own" their jobs. They perform functions according to specific job descriptions. A person will have his or her job until someone else is given that function - or until that task is eliminated. But if, through entrepreneurial education, we can identify, stimulate and realize the potential for business ownership, we’ll be able to utilize the now untapped people resources that are the catalyst in the creation of new jobs. 

The continued downsizing of middle-management ranks in large firms can mean opportunity for those who may be interested in self-employment. Un- fortunately, these people are not prepared for the road that lies ahead. Most of them have been told and taught how to find a job - not how to create jobs for themselves and others.

This cycle of dependency is now a major problem, and it must be broken. It should not surprise you that a great many people spend a large portion of their lives working for someone else, doing something they neither enjoy nor find challenging. But today, education institutions are just starting to do more to train tomorrow’s entrepreneurs. The result can only be a higher rate of job creation. 

Parents can help. I urge them to talk to teachers and counselors about programs for young people interested in business ownership. A child could be a potential entrepreneur without even knowing it. If he or she is easily bored, has average or below-average grades, has a limited attention span (but is capable of great effort on projects in which he or she is really interested), then that boy or girl may actually be looking for the kind of challenge that entrepreneurship offers. 

The Junior Achievement programs have provided an excellent way for high-school students to explore business leadership. However, most of JA’s adult advisers are from larger corporations.Young people in the program are not exposed to the owners of smaller and mid-sized businesses, even though this exposure is critical to their gaining insight into the world of business ownership. 

I would like to challenge the Business Education Alliance and the Detroit Compact to involve a much larger segment of our business community in their mission. I believe that smaller and mid-sized businesses would welcome the challenge that the Compact offers. The idea of a job guarantee appears to be more of the same - a dependency on big business. But we can no longer rely on big business to be the primary source of new employment or job security. 

Those must come from the ability of individuals to compete in the marketplace, and armed with their. knowledge, their talents and their confidence in themselves.•

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