Tools with no warranty : the state promotion of entrepreneurship training in Saskatchewan
Butler, Joanne L.
Neo-liberal theories of political economy support the state promotion of entrepreneurship training and development as key to community economic development, given its perceived potential to alleviate unemployment, and rural (and provincial) out-migration. Critical theories of political economy view such state promotion as representative of the expansion of neo-liberal policies and the contradictory processes of legitimation and marginalization, and depoliticization and containment, rather than the protection of the collective well being of citizens. In order to understand more clearly the role of entrepreneurship training programs (ETPs) in promoting the enterprise culture, and contributing to the changing face of entrepreneurship, findings are presented from a study of nine state-sponsored entrepreneurship training programs (ETPs) for marginalized individuals located throughout Saskatchewan. A multi-method approach was used, with both survey and interview data collected to explore the training agencies and their programs, and participants' experiences before, during, and after their training. The findings show that ETPs play a central role in promoting the enterprise culture. Despite the fact that the majority of participants were seeking alternatives to unemployment (rather than adopting wholeheartedly the tenets of the enterprise culture), their ETP infused them with feelings of optimism about entrepreneurship. Participants looked forward to the benefits of control, independence, and (for females) flexibility and personal fulfillment that they believed small business ownership offered. The ETPs contributed to the changing face of entrepreneurship by providing an opportunity for individuals not traditionally involved in entrepreneurship (women, Aboriginal peoples, and economically marginalized individuals) to do so. However, numerous barriers blocked participants' chances for entrepreneurial success. For those who had gone on to start their own business, their optimism waned in the face of the harsh realities of small business operation and failure. The agencies offering the ETPs attributed small business failure to participants' individual flaws and/or presented it as part of a valuable process of lifelong learning and personal development. As a case study, the research supports the conclusion that the expectations of entrepreneurship may be over-inflated and, consequently, the new self-employed are at risk to become part of a new underclass. Opportunities that do exist for the development of new policies which more adequately address the issues of unemployment, rural out-migration, and community economic development are identified.