Self Employment: The New Default?
If you ask my mom, I am unemployed. A former civil servant and HR practitioner, she does not subscribe to the idea that you can make a living home working. Had I been raising chickens for sale or doing some form of cross border trade, perhaps she would be half convinced. But working for clients, mostly online, some of whom I have never met? Mwikho!
I have been a freelancer in the digital space for almost a decade now. And although I was pushed into self employment, I had always wanted to leave gainful employment and set up my own business. In the mid 1990’s, a close friend and I approached a senior manager at the defunct Malawi Development Corporation (MDC) with a business plan to get funding to start a copy bureau. We saw a gap in the market. As we both worked for Xerox at the time, we took time to learn how bureaus worked and where we could source the equipment. My colleague would work the copy part and I would handle the tech side.
We never got funded but the spirit of entrepreneurship had been stoked. I spent the next few years designing graphics and developing websites after work and on weekends. There was something for me to run with when my last work contract was not renewed.
Dry job market
The job market is not the same as it was decades ago.
Parents are anxious about their unemployed children and for good reason too. They have spent their savings putting them through college. It is not unheard of that parents are unhappy at friends because they don’t seem to help their children find work. And that family member with a relatively good job? If his cousins and nieces remain unemployed, he is labelled selfish.
But how much leverage do these relatives and friends really have when it comes to not only creating job openings at their work places but filling them too?
We all have this expectation that secondary school or college leavers will sooner rather than later find employment. Organisations used to have yearly recruitment drives for university graduates and the government would guarantee employment to (almost) every nursing and teaching graduates. That had been the default. Not anymore.
Times have changed. Mass redundancies are a more frequent occurrence than recruitment drives. Most organisations are not growing and as such can’t absorb the growing job seeking population.
The new default
Perhaps we have reached a point where self employment needs to become the new default. Where family and friends help children get started on their own first before expecting an offer of employment. The pay may be less but something is better than nothing.
A few weeks ago I put across a case about getting the youth involved in urban farming. But agribusiness is not the only area where opportunities can be created.
Tell your family you want to enter the music, art or entertainment industry and you will more than likely receive a good amount of quality scorn. But the reality is that Malawians are making a healthy living in that industry.
Recycling. Urban tourism. Food production. Tech. Fashion. I even suspect someone innovative can even create a profitable industry around politics without ever becoming a politician!
It’s not easy. And the first days will always be the hardest. But what options do we have?