When thinking about the future, family-owned business leaders will need to consider the best way of ensuring the next generation has the skills and experience necessary to secure the continued success of the family business. While there is nothing like on the job training, should the next generation be required to spend time working outside the family business before joining the family ranks?

There are a number of key positive points to make regarding ‘outside’ work experience. 

Alternative to a university degree

While many of the next generation are entering the workforce with a degree, they may lack the hands-on skills necessary to be effective within the family business without additional on the job training. With university tuition fees and living costs following an upward trend, many entrants to the job market are considering vocational training as an alternative, and this also appeals to businesses with a growing need for skilled workers. Spending three to four years working with a competitor, key supplier or customer could be a better route for the next generation to achieve the necessary skills and experiences rather than obtaining a degree in an unrelated subject.

An objective perspective

Successful multi-generational family businesses invariably demonstrate an ability to evolve. Outside work experience gives the next generation a bird’s eye view of the family business, allowing them to identify weaknesses as well as strengths, and provide valuable input into overall strategy and direction. If the next generation only ever gets experience working ‘inhouse’ at the family business, they may inherit the bad habits as well as the good.

Success on their own merits

Starting a career outside the family business will give the next generation the confidence that comes with standing on their own two feet and achieving successes away from the perceived safety net of the family business. Such experiences enable the next generation to prove themselves, not only to their family, but also the family business’ workforce who may view roles given to family members as having been awarded as a result of family favour rather than on merit. 

Confirmation of their focus

Working outside of the family business can provide the next generation with space and time to explore all options and provide clarity as to whether the family business is right for them. Commentators suggest that on average, millennials can expect to have 15-20 jobs in their lifetime, and may expect to gain a variety of experiences before pursuing a definitive career path.

Plugging a skills gap

Working in another business may offer the next generation the chance to develop specific skills that may not otherwise be available within the family business (specialised marketing, advanced product development, detailed management accounting, crossing borders into international markets), allowing them to ‘hit the ground running’ when they choose to join the family business.

The best path for the next generation in any business will be dictated by a number of factors specific to that individual and the family’s needs. When the opportunity to gain experience from working in another business presents itself, taking advantage of those opportunities can be a great benefit - seemingly putting the family second may amount to putting the family first.