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  • Writer's pictureMark Olivito

A Call To Small Business Owners: Don't Outsource Your Future To The Colleges

On a recent taping of the Hustle Or Bust Podcast, we dove pretty deep into the topic of mentorship and recruiting new talent. More specifically, YOUNG new talent that you are looking to bring into your business for growth, succession planning, or to just "balance" your existing team. Any small business owner will attest to the challenges of hiring well.

This post focuses on the 18-23 year old segment of the workforce, generally considered "entry level" and full time.

There's 3 key facts that anchored our conversation and impact this topic:

1) In general, the Teen Labor Force Participation is almost half of what it was in the late '80's, and projected to be 25%.
2) We know the issues in higher education (college): Massively rising tuition, $1.7 Trillion of student loans, 40% drop out rate, massive underemployment rates.
3) General lack of financial literacy in the high school curriculum.

To be honest, I'm not sure which of the 3 is the biggest issue, they are ALL issues. But if I had to choose, I suspect #1 concerns me the most.

When 3/4's of the talent pool is very likely to not have ANY tangible work experience, SOMEBODY plays the role of being that young adult's first job. This is both a challenge AND an opportunity for small business owners.

We talked about the choice of hiring an 18 year old right out of High School, or hiring the typical college grad, lets say they are 22-23, and which we would prefer.

BUT, it hit me: Are we comparing apples to apples when we frame the choice of a 22-23 year old college grad with an 18 year old fresh out of high school? Not really. 4 years at such a young age makes a massive difference, the brain and overall maturity level increases at a pretty fast rate in these formative years.

So here's a better thought process:

Which Kid would you rather have 4 years POST high School:

The "Average College Grad"- Graduates high school, goes away to college, earns their degree, lets says it's Marketing, and amasses the average debt load of $40k. Internship (paid vs unpaid) and participation rates vary widely, so hard to say what depth of real world experience they will compile.

Here are some great stats:

The High School Grad, Enters Workforce Immediately

Does not have the means of entering college without amassing significant debt, and is unsure if that's the right path to begin with, so they figure they can earn $'s right away while they figure out a trade, education, skill building path.


What if the HIGH SCHOOL Grad entered YOUR business at 18, worked full time for you while you mentored them as an apprentice while they simultaneously pursued low cost, accredited online learning. They amass $0 debt and start earning and accumulating savings immediately. They are the "average teen" where they have little if any work experience, so this is a "lump of clay" that needs to learn the basics of a fully functioning, independent member of society, and they are doing this under YOUR wing, for YOUR business. They make classic new hire/young adult mistakes. They learn what accountability is. They get challenged, they rise to the occasion sometimes, and sometimes struggle. They scrape their knees, they got knocked down and learn what it takes to get back up. They learn your business, what makes it tick, your other employees, your customers, your products. Maybe they struggle in some areas, but there are one or 2 areas they shine. You learn this, you see them struggle and you see them grow over the 4 year time period.

Now FORCE YOURSELF to look into a crystal ball at this kid you've taken under your wing, and they started for you at age 18. Advance time to the age of 22, 4 years of grinding it out in the workplace and online studies.

NOW the million dollar question, Which would YOU HIRE?

The college grad you do NOT know vs the now 22 year old apprentice that has worked for you and pursued online education?

Said differently, who is going to take the 2 different 18 year old's right out of high school and do a BETTER job for YOUR business when they turn 22, YOU (and your small business) or Rutgers?

I suspect that any small business owner that gives this scenario serious thought, the overwhelming majority would say "absolutely, if they worked for me for 4 years as an apprentice, I'd rather have THAT kid at 22 than the conventional college grad that I don't know. Why wouldn't I, I know them, they know ME, they are fully trained, they know my business and I actually like them!

If I am right, than what's stopping you from starting?

  • "I don't have time to mentor, I'm running a business not a college."

  • "I'm not a baby sitter, I'm a business owner."

  • "How do I find THAT kind of kid to begin with, they don't even exist?"

Yes, this is hard. It requires patience. It's an investment. And we've been conditioned over decades that college grads are "special."

I'm not breaking new ground here with this thought process. Look at Google, arguably one of the most successful companies to ever exist on planet earth. When they start hiring NON-college grads that have completed their customized certificate programs what does that say?

When leading companies start something, no matter how small, I take notice. I don't know if the trend to take a hard look at non college grads is a "sea change" or not, but it could be. $1.7 Trillion problems with no end in sight tend to not end well.

I say this all the time: I'm not anti-education, I attribute a large amount of whatever success in life I've achieved to my education. It is that very education however that has allowed me to realize the math is now out of balance. The cost is beyond making the proposition a no brainer. And the stats of outcomes are troubling to say the least. We are no longer in the early '90's pre google/youtube and pre $1.7 Trillion.....

Regardless of the macro picture however, we have business to run and choices to make for US, our businesses and the people working in them. While the big picture of higher ed may or may not sort itself out, we need to understand it and how it relates to building our businesses.

I've talked about this for 20 years.

Life and all the topics within life always take the form of a bell curve. The far right side of the bell curve that represent 10-15% of any population is where success lies, businesses and people that GROW at a fast rate, love what they do and continue to push the envelope.

Those businesses and individuals do things differently. They experiment. They screw up, get knocked down, but quickly get back up. They learn quickly and are open to not just new ways of doing, but they ACT.

The masses in the middle, by definition they look like the average. They play it safer and conform to conventional wisdom and business practices. They survive, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Let's face it. We are living in a society that has been conditioned for the college degree. When businesses across the spectrum require college degrees for positions that can be TRAINED in LESS than 75 hours, somethings off here. We've become status obsessed.

The small business owner has ZERO luxury to be obsessed with status and where Johnny went to college. They need to be obsessed with....
  • Not worrying about making payroll

  • Investing in growth, capabilities, sustainability

  • Building their teams

  • Being the last person standing at when the next downturn is finished

  • Creating brands that if they went away, people would truly miss them.

  • Creating a business of value, that some day somebody would value enough to BUY. The overwhelming majority end up shutting the doors and selling off whatever they can.

None of the above has anything to do with a 22 year old showing you on a resume that Rutgers anointed Johnny a degree and therefore you choose Johnny.

If you are a small business owner, by definition you belong to a group that over 90% of the USA does not claim and there are over 30mm small businesses in the USA. They've gone through hell and back over the past few years.

The question always comes down too: What's next?

People are the magic sauce to any business.

When it comes to YOUR business, I challenge you to think different about hiring and developing young talent. The good news:The masses are already locked into their ways, entrenched. That reeks of opportunity. Now how do you put something in motion?...

If you'd like to learn about OUR approach, you can check out our apprenticeship program we've called Brick By Brick, powered by PAVERART.

My cell is 908-873-7522 feel free to text me and we'll set up time to chat.

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