Attitudes towards starting small business : youth and local authorities in a changing labour market?

Abstract: The aim of this thesis is to examine the extent to which a local authority can change the attitudes of its youth, away from public sector employment to the development of small business, through education. Traditionally the region of Norrbotten has favoured the public sector. Yet the dominance of this sector has recently been challenged by ideas that promote the private sector and small business, and advocate the rise of entrepreneurship. Attempts to operationalise the shift from public to private sectors can be seen in the development of entrepreneurship education in upper secondary school, where the main consideration is that young people should become aware of alternative options for future work, the main objective being to influence young people’s attitudes to enterprise with a view to fostering the growth of entrepreneurial tradition. The methods used for the research reported in the thesis are triangulation. Interviews were conducted with students, teachers, people in leading positions and project leaders; statistics and documents were collected; and questionnaires were answered by pupils involved in entrepreneurship education in one local authority, as well as pupils in two other local authorities in the region of Norrbotten. The data collection was thus undertaken in three local authorities in the northern part of Sweden. Two central concepts used in this thesis are ‘attitudes’ and ‘youth’. Attitudes are defined, following Angelöw and Jonsson (1990), as thoughts and knowledge that deal with ideas and notions, alongside an emotional component that accounts for the feelings about an object and actions that occur in specific situations. Youth is defined as a process in which young people develop in order to become adult; this is influenced by gender, social background and ethnicity. The theoretical framework examines youth, individualization, mobility, risk and agency in a changing society. The concept of neo-liberalism is also considered as a political background in order to help enrich our understanding of these changes in context. The conclusions of the research investigation indicate that local authorities want to develop their local labour markets in order to entice young people stay or move back to the local area. The focus on entrepreneurship shows the development of a pervasive neo-liberalism and individualization in society. In this context it is shown how local authorities take relatively small risks, at least compared to young people who take much greater risks in seeking to start their own business. Young people are aware that they are being encouraged to become entrepreneurs, but they are also acutely aware of the risks associated with starting a business. Entrepreneurship education provides the young people involved with an understanding of both the potential rewards and perils of business ownership, leaving them in little doubt of the risks involved. Risk thus becomes visible for these young people, who are provided with the skills and knowledge to calculate their likely success, or failure. An important insight from the research investigation on which this thesis is based is that the local authorities concerned do not involve young people when making their plans for the future. Instead, they act as if they and their young people inhabit separate worlds. Yet, when politicians speak, they do so from above, assuming that their plans and visions are rooted in the reality facing young people in contemporary society. Even so, it is shown that the majority of young people between 18 and 24 years of age leave their hometowns in order to achieve experience of other places. The main consideration for them is to seek education and meet new people, see new places and gain experience of new cultures. Despite the best efforts of local authorities’ leaders, it would appear that the majority of young people simply cannot place themselves as small business owners until they have achieved experience of life elsewhere.