Tackling the Plight of the Youth

Media houses describe the 55.2% unemployment rate among South African youth as a “ticking time bomb”.

The latest numbers from Stats SA show that more and more young people are out of work. Those with limited tertiary education are worse off, with little or no prospects for jobs, while graduates continue to struggle to even get interviews for jobs, with literally hundreds of people standing in line for a few sought-after positions.

The plight of the youth is a dire one that could have major detrimental long-term effects on the country.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution

The threat of artificial intelligence eradicating more and more jobs continues to add cause for concern, while the sluggish economy does little to restore hope and optimism for the future. However, the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) could also offer opportunities for the youth.

Professor Tshilidzi Marwala, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Johannesburg, says: “Our culture is rich in knowledge that is actually quite essential to the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”

He says that while the rest of the world may seem to be leading the way, there is definitely a gap in the market for the development of African-centric technology. Marwala says there are profound opportunities for entrepreneurs and business owners in 4IR, but that education is absolutely key to be able to navigate this global arena.

What is definitely a challenge is the digital divide, and this is certainly a problem in our rural areas, where connectivity and participation in 4IR is limited. This is something that needs to be addressed, particularly when one considers the plight of the youth in these under-resourced regions.

A Focus on Entrepreneurship

Regina Gounden, Provincial Manager for Small Business and Professional Banking at Nedbank, says that in order to own the future, we need to take the focus off job losses and focus on entrepreneurship. Encouraging entrepreneurship in our youth is definitely one way of tackling unemployment.

“Why do we need jobs when we can create employers?” she asks. The fact that Africa is its own economy is something we need to take advantage of, she points out.

And, certainly, when one looks at the technological disruption that has taken place on the continent, there is a lot of opportunity for free-thinkers who have the entire world to gain.

The phrase,  “African Solutions to African Problems”, has become something of a mantra, and if our youth are given a chance to use their creative energy and innovative minds to find their own solutions to problems like unemployment and poverty, our world will be a better place.

Key Issues and Possible Solutions

In an article on the World Economic Forum website earlier this year, James Dacosta from the Hult Prize Foundation says that meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), promoting entrepreneurship and tackling issues of youth employment are all key issues on national government agendas.

He says the notion of entrepreneurship is a solid one in terms of tackling job creation, but that entrepreneurship should have local context – i.e. provide local solutions for local problems (as we have stated above). He says that for a lot of younger people, making an impact is equally as important as making a profit – a bit different from the generations that have come before. He also says we need to stand up and take note of the spending power of young people.

“Over the next 30 years, in the US alone, $30-trillion of wealth will be transferred from baby-boomers to millennials to Generation Z. These generations are making higher social demands of companies, and they have a greater awareness of planetary issues and a strong desire to make positive changes in the world.”

He also says that giving support to entrepreneurs, and showcasing success stories of young entrepreneurs who have made it, is absolutely key. The power of youth entrepreneurship is not to be underestimated as a value creator, Dacosta points out.

However, he says the only way to empower youth entrepreneurship is through providing specialised training and continued support.

Computer Skills to the Rural Youth

Certainly, a lack of skills is a huge problem, particularly in the rural areas where WDB operates.

The WDB Trust Training and Development Academy was established in order to provide skills for women in rural areas of South Africa.

Computer-based functional literacy programmes (CBFL) and basic computer skills (BCS) for adults are aimed at enabling non-literate participants to read and write in their mother tongue within three months. These programmes are also aimed at introducing computer literacy to the youth.

Some of the young people from rural KwaZulu-Natal are trained to teach others about computers, as part of the train-the-trainer programme.

At a training session held in April 2019, Monica Mdlalose, a CBFL facilitator at the Kwa-Madlala site in Pietermaritzburg, said that the Training Academy had done much for her community.

“WDB has not only helped me, it has helped my peers around me in the community because they all want to know about technology,” said Mdlalose. “It is only that our families can’t afford to take us any further to university or college, so WDB has brought knowledge into my area.”

Zama Kunene had never worked on computers before, but being a numbers person, she really took to Excel.

Zama says, “I really liked Excel, because it was easy to use. I like to work with numbers a lot. Maybe one day I can start my own business…. I would like to say thank you so much to WDB for coming to our community to give us more knowledge about computers.”

Zanele Sikhakane from the same group said the course had been life-changing.

“I learned how to use a computer, which is something that’s necessary living in this society in this time and age. Thank you WDB for helping us with something that we needed as the youth of this country.”

Fikile Buthelezi, who heads up the WDB Training Academy, says the existing sites are in the pilot phase and she is pleased with the progress being made.

“The CBFL Programme is for one year and the BCS is a six-month programme. We are still fine-tuning it as we need to exit at some point and go to other areas,” she says.

The Power of Partnerships

Buthelezi says that creating partnerships – both in the public and private sector, in order to access funding to train South Africa’s youth, particularly in under-developed areas of the country – is absolutely key to any kind of positive future.

But, the Training Academy is not only looking at upskilling young adults – Buthelezi and her team have their eye set way into the future. In 2019, the Academy will also be facilitating a financial literacy programme for the youth.

Buthelezi says, “The programme is called Financial Literacy for Kids and the Training Academy will extend the financial literacy programme to all the WDB employees and youth in the next year or so.”

The Girl-Child Programme, aimed at empowering young girls, is still under development,

We believe that if we train women and empower women, we empower the whole family, the community is empowered. If the community is empowered, the whole society is empowered and you can do it through a woman,” says Buthelezi.

Perhaps it is time to stop buying into the negative perception of the youth being a “ticking time bomb” but instead to invest in our youth and let them take our country into a new chapter of prosperity and innovation.

As the late Kofi Annan once said: “I am convinced more than ever that any society that does not succeed in tapping into the energy and creativity of its youth will be left behind.”

Happy Youth Day to All.