Thousands of unemployed youth queue for the opportunity to hand in their CV at the Johannesburg Road Agency head office in the city centre. File picture: Simphiwe Mbokazi

While South Africa is considered an entrepreneurial leader in sub-Saharan Africa, its weakest link in terms of its entrepreneurial ecosystem is start-up skills. This poses the question, what skills can local youth be taught, in order to improve their appetite for entrepreneurship?

Just recently, Statistics South Africa released the latest results of its Quarterly Labour Force Survey for the first quarter of 2017, which showed that, apart from the overall unemployment rate reaching a 13 year high of 27,7%, the youth (ages 15 – 34 years) unemployment rate also increased to 38,6%. The sharp increase in unemployment is testament to the lack of start-up skills in the country, and calls for an even more focused approach to building an entrepreneurial ethos – from grassroots level.

This is according to Kobus Engelbrecht, spokesperson for the 2017 Entrepreneur of the Year® competition sponsored by Sanlam and BUSINESS/PARTNERS, who says that it is becoming increasingly important for entrepreneurship to be built into educational curricula, and related skills to be a key educational focus point for the younger generation. “The youth are generally associated with start-up businesses – if we are to encourage the roll-out of more start-up businesses in the economy, then we need to equip the youth with the necessary skills to build these small to medium enterprises (SMEs) that are critical in our growth-strapped economy,” says Engelbrecht.

He points to the latest Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) South Africa report for 2016-2017, which shows that only 37.9% of South Africans perceive that they have the capabilities required to start their own business. “This is a decrease of 7.5% compared to the previous year – another clear indication of the lack of start-up skills present in the local economy,” he says. The same report states that 35% of South Africans (down from the 40,9% reported in the previous year) recognise entrepreneurial opportunities in and around their communities and Engelbrecht says that the weakening economy, as well as lack of start-up skills are both contributing factors to this waning level of confidence.

While South Africa’s education system does include some basic entrepreneurial training (through craft, entrepreneur days at primary-level, and business and economics subjects at a secondary level), the overall reach of this type of education needs to expand much further, explains Engelbrecht. “There are skills that entrepreneurs require to be successful, and many of these can only be learnt outside of the classroom, through real-life, practical work experience. However, there are critical skills that should be expanded on at an early stage, to encourage more young people to explore entrepreneurial career paths after school.”

Such skills include the know-how on the practicalities of starting a business, such as writing business plans, conducting market research, how to register and license a business, labour law, how to develop a network, pitching a business to investors and when and how to scale a business, to name just a few.

Engelbrecht adds that while one of the most valuable learning experiences for aspiring entrepreneurs is to learn through internships and job-shadowing other successful entrepreneurs – there is much room within the local economy to provide more educational opportunities for the youth, especially where entrepreneurship is concerned.

He encourages both the public and private sector, to look toward their local communities and consider hosting practical entrepreneurial / start-up workshops and seminars - aimed specifically at youth with a keen interest in starting their own businesses.

Engelbrecht explains that in the economic downturn, it is more important than ever to drive home the importance of the role of entrepreneurs in building sustainable economic growth. “We are fast losing pace with other entrepreneurial-driven economies, both globally and on the continent and, from a jobs perspective, we urgently need to course-correct. We can only expect more entrepreneurs to take up this challenge, if we are adequately equipping them to do so,” he concludes.


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