Since 2011, numbers of self-employed people under 30 years of age have risen steadily. This trend could well continue unabated despite the obstacles faced by self-employed people. Running a business requires specialist training which is not accessible for most budding entrepreneurs.

More and more young Belgians are choosing to start their own businesses. Since 2008, numbers of self-employed people under 30 have risen from 98 260 to 103 147 in 2013, according to the National Institute for the Social Security of the Self-Employed (INASTI). This is an increase of 1.41% compared to 2012.

This increase can primarily be explained by the rise in numbers of people undertaking self-employed activities alongside their main occupation. Almost every fourth self-employed worker carries out self-employment activities in addition to having a salaried job. But this spike in entrepreneurial activity can also be explained by the high unemployment rate (8.3% in Flanders, 14.5% in Wallonia and 21% in Brussels). This is especially prevalent among young people. ’Given how difficult it is to secure a first job, many young people are saying that it’s better to employ themselves’, observed Sven Nouten, a spokesperson at the Neutral Trade Union for Self-employed Persons (SNI).

The flipside of this trend is that the failure rate is still very high, ’often because they get the initial analysis wrong or frankly because there hasn’t been enough management training’, said the spokesperson from the SNI. To kick start career paths of young self-employed people and secure their futures, the answer is simple: entrepreneurship training needs to be better and more individualised, advocates the SNI. ’Education at the moment is generating a false sense of security. Young graduates believe that they have all of the knowledge necessary to start their own business but this is frequently not the case,’ notes Sven Nouten.  ‘What it means to be an entrepreneur must feature as a key component in training, in both secondary as well as further education.

Meanwhile, several parallel entities – IFAPME in Wallonia, EFPME in Brussels – are in charge of training future managers. There is also a series of measures in place aimed to foster entrepreneurship and support young people starting their own businesses. In Wallonia, Forem has introduced the ’Airbag’ plan, a scheme which grants EUR 12 500 over two years to potential entrepreneurs. It has recently been enlarged to include two new target groups: further education graduates from economics, commerce or management and for people over 50 with three years of professional experience. In Brussels, unemployed people can start their own businesses, risk-free, as part of the ‘Job yourself’ activity cooperative. Through this structure, every job-seeker can test their project on the market for 18 months, without taking any risks. The cooperative manages not only budding entrepreneurs’ accounts but also offers skills assessment, group training sessions, individual guidance and basic management courses.