Gen Y: The Future Is Now

Getty Images

The Millennial generation has been told since childhood that they are America's future. But now the future is upon us and it looks a lot different than we expected.

It is no secret that Generation Y is suffering. Today, Millennials — the very same young people who have been time and again called America's future — are 40 percent more likely to be unemployed, face chronic underemployment, and hold unprecedented college debt loads. However, despite the hardships facing our youth, a silver lining has emerged.

Young people are turning toentrepreneurshipas an alternative career path and starting their own businesses in record numbers — solidifying the Millennial generation as the most entrepreneurial in history.

According to a 2011 Youth Entrepreneurship Survey conducted by Buzz Marketing Group and the Young Entrepreneur Council, 23 percent of America's young people started a business this past year as a result of being unemployed. 15 percent started their business in college. Both of these facts clearly prove we are actively creating our own jobs, and trying to reshape America's economic landscape. As such, it is our nation's moral, financial and patriotic duty to support this vital trend in every way possible. If we succeed — and succeed we must — we will pave the way for today's most ambitious young people to create thousands of new companies and new jobs all across the country.

Government Must Eliminate Barriers

While the government cannot guarantee small business success, it must create conditions where young entrepreneur-led businesses can launch, grow, hire and create new products. For starters, the government needs to increase the capital available through its SBA Microloan program (short-term, government-backed small business loans) and remove the regulations that prohibit startups from openly crowd-sourcing startup capital. Outreach programs need to target young people and ensure that intermediaries are not putting up road-blocks for access to these dollars due to a lack of traditional credit or collateral.

Passing the Youth Entrepreneurship Act into law will increase entrepreneurship education grants and implement federal student loan forgiveness and deferment programs for young people who create successful businesses, enabling unemployed recent college graduates to better use their available funds for startup and operating capital. And with an overwhelming 88 percent of surveyed young people indicating that they feel the government does not support them, government agencies must find better strategies to promote available resources, tools and small business information to the tech-savvy millennial generation.

Private Enterprise, Invest!

Private enterprise and non-profits must also play a vital role in supporting the youth entrepreneurship eco-system. In partnership with educational institutions, business owners and investors must team up to establish more accelerators, incubators and venture funds on campuses. Banks and traditional lenders must create financial programs that can actually be used by young entrepreneurs--especially on the hyper-local levels. And, as demonstrated by the Startup America Partnership, private enterprise must continue to create pools of tools and educational resources that are easily accessible by young, entrepreneurial Americans. It is also the responsibility of the private sector--and America’s most successful entrepreneurs and business owners--to give back to the next generation of young entrepreneurs by supporting those non-profits who increase access to mentorship, apprenticeships and entrepreneurship education programs.

Integrating the Real World and Academia

In the Buzz Marketing Group/YEC survey, 88 percent of young people stated entrepreneurship education is vitally important given the new economy and job market; yet 74 percent of college students had no access entrepreneurial education and resources on their college campuses. Furthermore, when resources were available, many students felt those resources were woefully inadequate in preparing them to start a business post-graduation.

The collegiate system in need of a total overhaul when it comes to entrepreneurship education. Tenured professors without any real-world business experience should not be the educators charged with teaching entrepreneurial programs. In schools where this isn’t possible, institutions should work with local businesses to mentor and train their professors. Book-learning must go hand-in-hand with real-world practicum. Course planning and execution must include input and support from business owners. Most importantly, colleges must provide students with on-campus resources and access to private enterprise partnerships to help these young people get their small business ideas off the ground while still enrolled as students. Bottom line: colleges must adapt existing curricula to the times, and educate young people on how to own and operate a business within their field of study. An auto mechanic who graduates college without a basic understanding about how to run an auto-body shop is simply unacceptable.

Young People, Get Real — Fast!

Young Americans can no longer depend on the hand-out, resume driven society of old. Our times call for us to create jobs to keep jobs, en masse. It’s time for Gen Y to get real by taking responsibility for our generation, including educating our peers by example, transforming into a generation of independent agents and demonstrating our ability to validate our college degrees in more productive ways than accepting under-employment or pursuing dead-end job searches. While every aspiring young business owner cannot be expected to be successful, increasing the number of America's young entrepreneur population by as little as 1- to 2-percent will result in the creation of millions of new jobs, a sharp decrease in youth unemployment, while generating of billions of dollars of new revenue. A major undertaking, absolutely. An impossible utopian dream, not at all.

Collectively, we have an incredible opportunity before us. It is time we stop telling our young people that they are America's future and instead, put the tools and resources at their disposal, enabling us to embrace Gen Y as America's present.

Scott Gerber is a serial entrepreneur, internationally syndicated columnist and TV host, and the founder of the Young Entrepreneur Council.