‘‘Find out what you like doing best, and get someone to pay you for doing it.”
– Katharine Whitehorn

New world of work needed for SA youth

AS A NATION, we should start to prepare individuals, specifically the youth, for work that doesn’t yet exist and technologies that haven’t been invented so that we can solve problems we don’t yet know are problems.

Education and skills shortcomings are at the heart of South Africa’s employment crisis – a challenge which has seen the economy continuing to create opportunities for semi-skilled and skilled workers while shedding jobs in unskilled areas.

This contributes to an increase in poverty and inequality. An ongoing challenge for the government is to estimate and anticipate the education and skills needed to support, and enable societal development and a productive and inclusive economy for all. Further and higher education are predominantly focused on training people for jobs – and not work. It is difficult for the country to move forward when unemployment is at 26.5%. Our youth are disengaged and disillusioned, having studied in fields or towards careers that aren’t available. 

In a 2011 Census, 3.2 million youths aged between 18 and 29 were not in employment, education or training. In the fourth quarter of 2016, this same age group averaged 43% of the unemployment figure. This does not indicate improvements in tackling employment and skills in this group. The lack of opportunities to enter the workforce to gain experience, coupled with poor school education and limited networks, consign many young job seekers to long-term unemployment. If our country seeks to succeed and compete with global players, it needs to urgently look at strategies to bring our youth options and access to opportunities with the skills they have. They need to be guided to develop those skills to turn the tide of youth unemployment and create sustainable economic growth. 

Young people who want to move on and create new businesses should be provided with the relevant platforms and networks. Scarce skills in the manufacturing environment indicate that welders, electricians, boilermakers and plumbers to name a few, are in short supply. What are we doing as a country to enable and support qualified artisans to start their own businesses? Regrettably, the answer is “not much”. Artisans today need to be qualified in ways that draw on both disciplinary and multidisciplinary knowledge bases. They require diagnostic, problem-solving and specialist skills at high levels of technical complexity. 

Life skills are also important, including proficiency in written, spoken, visual and information technology used in the workplace and in technical areas. Artisans need to keep up to date with changing employment and technological trends, allowing them to become entrepreneurs today to grow the companies of tomorrow. Employers from most sectors of the economy are trying to remain afloat in these hard economic times and cannot absorb as many individuals as we would need to do for sustainability. 

South Africa ranks sixth globally in terms of youth unemployment, and 11.75 million individuals of the active labour force have less than a Grade 12 certificate. Participating in mechanisms of skills development such New world of work needed for SA youth as apprenticeships is one of many ways employers could use to develop skills they need while improving young people’s employability. However, trainability is also important. 

The quality of skills is important if, as a nation, we want to innovate relentlessly and continuously. Every worker should be considered a knowledge worker, and technical workers should be trained to be multi-skilled and creative problem-solvers using the work (or work-like) environment to contextualise. This would need to be industry driven and focused on specific industry needs. While aspirational, the legislative environments of skills development, employment equity and broad-based black economic empowerment cannot enable or support long-term sustainability alone. We need a concerted effort from all social partners to create quality entrepreneurs reconditioned for the 21st century world of work.

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