Entrepreneurship Will Become a Must-Have Career Skill for Navigating Technological Change and an Uncertain Future
By Sarah Lubik
This article also appears in the 2017 Summer issue of Career Developments,
the National Career Development Association (NCDA) print magazine.
Right now, we are in a period of unprecedented change and uncertainty in the dynamics of the career market. Rapid advances in mechanical automation and artificial intelligence, in particular, will see many existing roles supplanted by technology – and many new, different roles created. Moreover, traditional industries are increasingly embracing technology. As these markets and technologies race forward, the soft skills required to succeed also change, requiring an entrepreneurial mindset and work ethic to keep up. Jobs are also far less secure than they once were, with many students starting with contract employment .
These conditions mean that students may be wise to reinterpret the concept of job security to mean being highly valuable, self-reliant and adaptable. This scenario also poses a number of substantial challenges for educators and career management professionals. As we strive to prepare young people with the skills they will need to thrive in the job market and in life, we are also unable to tell them what their future careers will look like.
Technological change and uncertainty
The impact of technological advances on traditional workplaces is already changing the landscape of industries. It is getting harder to draw the line between what is the “tech sector” and what is “a sector very reliant on tech.” No sector or industry is “safe” from the impact of disruptive technologies. The health field is changing due to empowering possibilities in personalized medicine, the pervasive nature of social media is shaping marketing, while human resources firms rely on web platforms and big-data . This means comfort with technology and digital literacy are increasingly important regardless of career field. This does not mean that every student needs to be a coder, as is frequently suggested, but that every student needs to be able to work with technology and information processing to create and work with meaningful solutions. It also requires complementary, softer skills.
Entrepreneurship skills for future careers
It is estimated that some 65% of children entering primary schools today will likely work in roles that don’t currently exist . To deal with this uncertainty, increased emphasis on innovation entrepreneurship is needed: the abilities to match new ideas or technology to market and societal needs, and sustainably create and capture value from innovation. Entrepreneurship and innovation training develops “renewable competencies” such as creativity and adaptability, team work and collaboration skills, communication and implementation . These skills have also been found to lead to much greater ambition and productivity . Interdisciplinary experiences have also been found to be increasingly important to gaining realistic experience and to taking on the more complex challenges students hope to tackle . Moreover, millennial students are increasingly looking to entrepreneurship for meaningful careers . Not all students will become entrepreneurs immediately, if ever, but The Centre for Business Innovation (CBI), part of the Conference Board of Canada, indicates these are also critical skills looked for in employees .
Trend towards temporary vs permanent positions
This entrepreneurial ability to create opportunities is further critical as employment statistics in Canada indicate that we are in the process of a major shift toward greater temporary employment and away from permanent roles. A recent report from Statistics Canada notes that “large declines in full-time employment have been observed among youth. From 1976 to 2014, the full-time employment rate declined by about 18 percentage points among men aged 17 to 24 and by about 11 percentage points among women in that age group.” Meanwhile, younger generations are increasingly changing jobs more frequently than those that preceded them . The ability to quickly learn and adapt, or create their own job begins to be fundamental rather than optional.
How do we prepare students for an uncertain workplace?
The challenge of developing and evolving curricula and support in order to ensure our students are ready for this unpredictable future may seem daunting, but existing programs can be infused with relevant skills and experiences and new programs have been developed that can be successfully emulated.
Technology skills – Where technology skills have often been siloed in tech fields, interdisciplinary programs can build not only comfort with technology, but also the complementary skills required to use them to their best advantage. At SFU, Technology Entrepreneurship@SFU (Tech e@SFU)  was named in the BC Technology Strategy as the type of program that should be encouraged. It has business and entrepreneurship students from all disciplines partner with students from mechatronics engineering to develop problem-driven and market-responsive products. Students must take a “cross over” course (Introduction to Entrepreneurship & Innovation for tech students and Mechatronics Design for Non-Engineers for non-tech students) to develop familiarity and then become functioning interdisciplinary teams, even leading to technology ventures in some cases.
For students not able or willing to commit to a full academic class or program, there are also possibilities to build capabilities through partnerships with external organizations. For example, Lighthouse Labs runs HTML 500, a one-day, 500-person conference to teach basic coding and using tech to find solutions to challenges.
For the intersection of soft and tech skills, self-branding and how to communicate in a networked world can be developed in courses like SFU’s Publishing 201: Publishing of the Professional Self, open to students from all disciplines.
Interdisciplinary & experiential entrepreneurship – Many of the world’s top universities including Stanford, MIT and Cambridge have launched highly successful interdisciplinary innovation programs. At SFU, a large number of interdisciplinary accelerator classes are co-taught with champions from multiple faculties, providing entrepreneurial frameworks and mentorship as self-driven interdisciplinary student teams engage with their communities to tackle challenges like community health needs (Health Lab), social innovation (Change Lab), sustainable product design (Business of Design) and how to commercialize their own research (Invention to Innovation) . These types of programs also link technology with solving societal problems .
Support & mentorship – Increasingly, universities are developing incubators to support the students who create their own opportunities , a key feature of which is mentorship by established entrepreneurs. At SFU, the Coast Capital Savings Venture Connection incubator provides a range of services from Mentor Meet (where anyone from the university can have coffee with an experienced mentor) to Ignite (where students, faculty, staff or recent alumni with early-stage ventures can receive mentorship from a dedicated, seasoned entrepreneur). For those seeking socially driven entrepreneurship, Radical Ideas Useful to Society (RADIUS) offers a fellowship in changemaking as well as mentored early-stage and later-stage accelerator programs.
For those career professionals who are not in a position to start new entrepreneurship programs, it may be useful to develop relationships with local incubators, which are becoming increasingly common across the country, in order to introduce students to appropriate professionals and potentially early-stage training programs. They may also augment existing mentorship programs by seeking out entrepreneurial alumni who wish to re-engage with the university and support students.
Given the exponential rate of change in technology, required skills and the job market, traditional job security may soon be a vanishingly rare commodity. In this new career environment, it is critical to ensure not only that students are prepared with relevant, hands-on and adaptable skills that employers need, but also that they have the ability to create their opportunities rather than depend on others.
Dr Sarah Lubik is Simon Fraser University (SFU)’s first Director of Entrepreneurship. She is Co-Champion of the Technology Entrepreneurship@SFU program, a lecturer in Entrepreneurship and Innovation in the Beedie School of Business and researches university entrepreneurship. She has experience coordinating pan-European startup support programs, is a certified expert business coach and is the co-founder a high-tech startup. Lubik holds a BBA (honours) from SFU and a masters and PhD from Cambridge.
 The Globe and Mail (October 18, 2016), “University graduates juggle jobs of varying certainty”.
 OECD (December 2016), Skills for a Digital World. URL: www.oecd.org/els/emp/Skills-for-a-Digital-World.pdf
 Miller (2013) The Rise of the Generalists. Globe and Mail Canadian University Report. October. 19-13
 Financial Post (August 20, 2012), “Why Next 36 matters for all Canadian entrepreneurs”
 Interdisciplinary experiences have also been found to increasingly important to gaining realistic experience.
 Fast Company (January 6, 2016), “Millenials Are Reshaping The World of Social Impact”. URL: www.fastcoexist.com/3060085/millennials-are-reshaping-the-world-of-social-impact
 Statistics Canada (November 2015), Full-time Employment, 1976 to 2014
 Psychology Today (March 29, 2015), Are Millennials More Likely to Switch Jobs and Employers?