When I was in business school studying venture capital management, my entrepreneurship professor, said that before going into business, I should get some experience under my belt. I was told that making some mistakes on someone else’s dime was a good idea. True as that still is, if you are going to start a business, sooner is better than later.

I followed my professors’ advice. I got myself a job. Then another one, and then another and then another. You get the picture. Pretty soon, I got comfortable with my steady paycheck at the end of the month. It took me 17 years to muster up enough courage to take the leap into entrepreneurship.

In the 17 years that I worked for someone else, I did pick up some useful skills. But did I learn the most important skill of all – how to manage a small business by bootstrapping to make every little bit of fund available go further? The answer is a resounding NO! Cash flow is the lifeblood of any business and if you have not learned to stretch it as far as possible, what you have learnt really?

I would like to believe that it is a lot easier now for people to start a business than when I left university. In fact, this is not the case. It was as easy then as it is now – for those who really want to. Fresh out of college you don’t know what “can’t” be done – that is when innovation comes naturally.

The paradox is that in college we are told to study hard so that we can land a good job – the better the first job, the more successful your education has been. Colleges and universities should be teaching our youth that it is far better to start something of their own than to take scraps spruced up to look like jobs.

The three million new graduates that are being churned out annually by the education industry in Bangladesh would be better off starting up micro and small enterprises rather than seeking employment in dead-end jobs that, quite frankly, they could have done with high school graduation. Setting up a business is the smartest and potentially the most rewarding thing a new graduate can do. Besides, the opportunity cost is low given the low starting salaries at most jobs.

The low salaries are only considered low, even by Bangladeshi standards, because the people getting these jobs are overqualified for them – at least on paper. If they had learned some skills after high school and got these jobs, these would not have been considered as grossly low as they are currently. Turning the phrase, you will get what you pay for, I would say, you will pay for what you need and no more. For example, if I need a bookkeeper and I hire a BBA, I will only pay a bookkeepers’ salary. In Bangladesh, you will be hard-pressed to find a bookkeeper, so you hire a BBA. The problem is that BBAs are not trained for it and therefore will not be very good at bookkeeping. The salary that I offer the BBA will be considered very low.

Statistics show that the average graduate all across Bangladesh earns around BDT 8,000 (roughly USD 100) per month. It is not because the businesses are cheap or trying to cheat their workers – it is because they are not really hiring for graduate-level skills. There are very few jobs that require a graduate degree. To shine a light on the futility of this cultural bias towards obtaining a high degree, only 200,000 graduate-level jobs are created annually across the country. You do the math – three million graduates against 200,000 graduate-level jobs created annually.

My advice to our youth– if you want a job – is to get a good vocational education (this includes business studies) right after high school. If you must get a university degree, make sure it is from a very good university that employers seek to hire from because the spaces are limited.

A better idea is to become an entrepreneur. You are all young enough to work very hard and give it a real chance!

Originally published on Linkedin on September 3, 2014.
Picture credit: Internet