'Apprentice Entrepreneurs’? Ethnic Minority Workers in the Independent Restaurant Sector

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Ram, Monder ; Abbas, Tahir ; Sanghera, Balihar ; Barlow, Gerald ; Jones, Trevor (2001)

Ethnic minority business activity has often been presented as a vehicle for `upward mobility' for owners and workers alike. Much attention has focused upon the owners themselves. The co-ethnic labour that such employers usually rely upon has often been treated as unproblematic. This paper aims to illuminate the experiences of workers in ethnic minority owned restaurants. In particular, the widely held view that working in a co-ethnic firm serves as an `apprenticeship' for eventual self-employment is explored. \ud \ud Rather than co-ethnic ties, workers' labour market experiences highlight the importance of the `opportunity structure' in shaping employment choices. The evidence of the current research suggests that the goal of self-employment was not widely held; and although many workers did move around to acquire better paid work, this was not part of a strategic route to becoming a restaurateur. Some workers did cherish such ambitions, but were inhibited by major obstacles. These included intense competition, high start-up costs, and a lack of `know-how'. The labour market and social context of the firm often militated against the hazardous proposition of self-employment.
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