How Businesses Can Develop Next-Gen Leaders And Solve Youth Unemployment

Jessamy Amic

Posted: June 15, 2023

Table of Contents

16 June marks Youth Day in South Africa, a day when we should celebrate the promise and future of an emerging generation. But, sadly, there’s not much to celebrate. According to the latest figures, 9.1 million South Africans between 15 and 24 years of age are not in employment, education or training (NEET) — people who are excluded from the economy and struggle to find their way in. Paul Romer, co-recipient of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Economics, famously said, “If you can’t solve the problem of getting young people into work, it may not matter what other problems you do solve.”

Getting young people into work, however, feels like a herculean task mired in quicksand. Key drivers of youth unemployment are the ongoing power crisis that puts pressure on companies to remain in operation, and the devastating underperformance of our education system. Other barriers include the cost of work seeking, limited social capital among our youth, and reluctance among employers to hire young, untrained people.

Two years ago the Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE) Statement on Youth Unemployment quoted a young South African saying: “You feel like you are useless; you don’t belong to Earth; you are not even a human being – that’s how I feel.”

The CDE’s Ann Bernstein regards youth unemployment as a national catastrophe. “We have to take bold actions to get investment in the country and changes to our labour laws to build labour intensive economy. We also need to start tackling youth unemployment on as many fronts as possible by reforming the education system, improving the way young people are trained for potential jobs, bringing in skills from all over the world and removing all the structural constraints on growth.”

How can businesses get involved in empowering our youth?

Employment is a form of education and training, providing workers with knowledge, skills, discipline, networks and other capabilities they cannot get from a formal education. This is what Paul Romer means when he refers to “work as school.” Here are ways businesses can get SA’s youth working.

Career guidance and mentorship programmes

Businesses that employ young people can provide career coaching to anchor deep learning, support the growth of future leaders, and give autonomy over learning options. Mentorship is equally important, not only to learn how the job is done and improve on it, but to give young workers a head-start on aspirational executives who learned by the book.

Actions to take: Employers can create a watchlist of high-potential employees and assign them a coach or mentor who can help to clearly define roles and responsibilities and tie these to their expected deliverables and what they need to do to advance.

Skills development via succession planning

Although they can be facilitators, training and education providers should not be the ones to drive a company’s skills development plan. Rather companies should initiate the development of learning programmes based on assessing basic skills needs along with critical skills needs. Integrating skills development succession planning into a company’s mission and vision creates a structure for training and further development and can cultivate a new generation of leaders, providing short-term and long-term benefits for the company, its employees and stakeholders.

Actions to take: Apprenticeships, learnerships, internships, and other work-integrated learning (WIL) opportunities allow companies to place young people into entry-level posts, gain industry experience, and ensure scarce skills development. They can invest in paid training programmes and incentivise employees by reimbursing them for reaching milestones.

Networking and social capital

Social capital is the social networks that can be leveraged for access to information about the labour market, education system, job availability, and access to jobs themselves. Data shows that employment in South Africa is mainly found through informal networks of friends or family who are aware of job openings or who put people in touch with employers — who, in turn, rely on networks to find suitable candidates for their jobs. According to a study by the NRF, young people don’t have access to social networks which can help leverage information-gathering on education, the labour market, job availability and job access.

Actions to take: Businesses can develop an effective intermediary system that informs young people about skills needs, training options and employment opportunities, as well as reliable ‘flags’ to HR departments and recruiters about young people’s training and experience. Businesses could, for example, work with youth organisations to reach untapped talent.

Understanding South Africa’s youth

In the MasterStart webinar Transforming the Employment Landscape for SA Youth,  Business Developer and Corporate HR Practitioner Amena Hayat talks about the born free generation (born in 1994, after the end of apartheid). Being socially and politically aware and racially and ethnically diverse, they are more tolerant and accepting than previous generations and offer unique soft skills that employers can benefit from in turbulent times. These are:

  • Tech savvy and use tech to connect in every way
  • Entrepreneurial self-starters who want to make a difference
  • Resilient and adept at navigating uncertainty
  • Adaptable because they have grown up in a world of rapid change
  • Creative problem-solvers keen to find new solutions
  • Open-minded, outspoken and creative

Amena says employers should at the same time be aware of their soft skills gaps, but emphasises that career coaching and training — for instance with MasterStart’s Power Skills Essentials online short course — can easily resolve these. These include communication skills (especially face-to-face), active listening, emotional intelligence and critical thinking.

Lifelong learning with MasterStart

As new skill requirements emerge, businesses need to go beyond traditional training methods by identifying and deciding on the paths better suited to the born-free generation’s professional growth. The first step is to identify a pipeline of leadership candidates who will be able to navigate their company through the turbulent landscape ahead. Secondly, they must engage in skills-focused virtual and blended programmes that address skills gaps in the shortest amount of time and offer the best Return on Learning Investment (ROLI).

MasterStart, with generous business sponsorships and collaborative partnerships with Africa’s leading business schools, focuses on offering a transformational learning experience to those entering the workforce or who want to upskill to remain relevant. Our combined efforts ensure that our young leaders are skilled and equipped to be invaluable employees and leaders that thrive and grow in the South African employment landscape. Contact us today to discuss ways we can help you upskill your young employees to ensure their place in a prosperous South Africa.

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