BEYOND COLLEGEBUSINESS IDEASSTARTUPS

Youth entrepreneurship on the rise

Sylvia Zietek is blazing new work trails. Armed with a solid business and marketing plan and a whole lot of gumption, this 27-year-old is set to launch Pierogi Queen, a local food truck offering an array of Polish pierogies handmade with love.

Her innovative menu features a smorgasbord of traditional potato goodness, along with some interesting fusion flavours — everything from her grandmother’s handcrafted age-old potato and cheddar recipe to flavourful twists like jalapeno and cheddar, spinach and feta with tzatziki, breaded mac and cheese, and her own personal favourite, a taco pierogi served with lettuce, tomato and cheese.

“Is your mouth watering yet?” asks Zietek, smiling as she describes them.

She’s happy, fiercely focused and excited about her future. And she is not alone. Zietek is part of a growing number of young people who are ditching the traditional 9 to 5 grind in favour of entrepreneurism.

“Youth today have a different way of doing things. They don’t necessarily want to work under the big guy,” says Zietek. “And, more and more people want to work for themselves and make their own schedules, which usually as an entrepreneur means you are working 24/7, but it is what you want to do; what you love to do,” says Zietek.

Like many entrepreneurs, it took Zietek a few years to craft her plan. Spurred on by her Polish roots and her love of food, Zietek’s vision unfolded slowly. It started with gigs in the hospitality industry and became more fully formed as she travelled the world.

“This is about more than making money for me. This is about spreading the word of food. It’s such a connector; it’s always brought people together, even if they don’t speak the same language,” says Zietek, who would cook her grandmother’s pierogies for groups of people as she travelled through Europe and central and South America. “It was my travel trick. It’s how I met people.”

Along the way Zietek has had lots of help formulating a business plan and direction. She just finished a year-long entrepreneurship certificate at Fanshawe College and has spent the summer immersed in the college’s Leap In Incubator, a nine-week campus-linked accelerator program that supports startups with seed funding, one-on-one business analysis, programming, mentorship and co-working space for a selected cohort.

“London is a very entrepreneurial city,” says Darlene O’Neill, senior manager, employment and student entrepreneurial services at Fanshawe College. “I think the more that youth are introduced to entrepreneurialism, the more interested they become.”

She says that entrepreneurism is incorporated across the board into Fanshawe’s curriculum. “Critical thinking skills, skills around resiliency, and teamwork, it’s all part of what we teach.”

But she notes that for those students and youth looking for traditional employment, the job scene is healthy and robust.

“We are very excited for our students. Our co-op employment numbers are up; our part-time job numbers are up and we have record job postings,” says O’Neill. “In fact, we have never had this many job postings in the history of our job board. It’s phenomenal.”

And that’s good news for the almost 40,000 Southwestern Ontario high school students about to join the thousands of college and university students on the summer job hunt.

In May, London’s unemployment rates hit an almost-record low of 5.3 per cent.

But Steve Cordes, executive director at London’s Youth Opportunities Unlimited (YOU) says that unemployment rates don’t always paint the whole picture when it comes to youth and student employment.

”Even though the unemployment numbers are low, it is really hard to jump into the job market without previous work experience,” he says. That’s why programs at YOU focus on things like resume building, career counseling and navigating the system, as well as providing some skills training through social enterprise structures like the YOU Made It Café.

“We are really helping youth to develop a portfolio, whether it’s getting a first aid course or a safe food handling course or sales training – these are all things people can add to their portfolio.”

Source
THE LONDONER
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