Faced with the daunting challenge of increasing levels of youth unemployment, the debate over youth economic empowerment solutions has become highly contested, as was recently witnessed during a violent stand-off between the DA and Cosatu over the modalities of the youth wage subsidy.
While the solution to this ticking time-bomb does not lie in a single-handed approach, it is important that a correct message about the sustainability of the solutions are at our disposal.
That is why the youth wage subsidy presents both the pros and cons that must be clearly addressed before it is speedily phased in and implemented.
As was seen during a number of platforms and events during Youth Month, as in inviting young people to take up existing opportunities, the temptations exist to create an impression that it is easy for young people to become entrepreneurs and contribute to the economy. While entrepreneurship, from a long-term economic sustainability point of view, presents better options for young people, it is important that the risks associated with running a business are equally understood.
Differently put, without proper skills, experience and coaching, it will be financial suicide and dangerous to steer young people into self-business management if they are not provided with the necessary support structure to ensure that their failure is heavily mitigated.
Properly defined, entrepreneurship refers to “one who undertakes innovations, finance and business acumen in an effort to transform such into economic goods for the good of others”. An entrepreneur becomes someone who is not just enterprising, but builds capital through risk or initiatives. This cannot be realised instantly or within a short space of time, as many of our entrepreneurs believe. Hence studies in South Africa have distinguished between “survival” and “opportunity” entrepreneurs.
On every occasion, the wisdom of entrepreneurs such as the Ackermans, Richard Branson, Herman Mashaba, Richard Maponya and Ndaba Ntsele must be called on to mentor the energy that many young start-ups have.
With the advent of growing materialism, instant gratification is characterised by the desire to accumulate wealth quicker, it is important to ensure that we start to redefine the soul and profile of the kind of “entrepreneur” that this country really needs. As institutions such as the National Youth Development Agency, the Industrial Development Corporation and the National Empowerment Fund do their part in creating an enabling environment for sustainable creation of enterprises, our part must be to guide young people to realise the true meaning and pace of entrepreneurship.
Similarly, the myth that entrepreneurship is the overall solution for all the social ills confronting young people must be dismissed in the same way as we must dismiss the belief that broad-based black economic empowerment can resolve all the socio-economic ills that face black people.
While these are relevant and instrumental in influencing the integration and economic participation of black people, a message must be re-enforced that education – which is both formal and informal – mentorship, skills and other legislative interventions are the cornerstone of a growing and inclusive economy.
In particular, we must do away with the erroneous belief that freedom means that every black person is capable of running a business. While this may be so for those who are committed to the course and mindful of what it takes, we must make the painful admission that some people were born to remain employees.
Therefore, Youth Month must be an opportunity for young people to realise that while the calls for “economic freedom in our lifetime” are important, the relevant skills base and hard work becomes the foundation of such a struggle. We should therefore endeavour to create a young cadreship that is not shy to take up training and learning opportunities when these are made available.
This means dispelling the employee mentality when we want to be our own bosses. It also means thinking and acting out of the box, while networking with the best case studies that have tried and tested various products before. This is an important vein for the proper marketing and growth of the products that new businesses must innovate, develop and promote. In that way, young people will be steered away from the usual, traditional and saturated product outputs that are often associated with black businesses. These are catering, events, security and liquor trade.
This year’s 18th celebration of Youth Month must be the epitome of a new approach, consciousness and vision about the kind of young entrepreneurship that South Africa must produce.
Thabo Masombuka is an economic transformation adviser and a lawyer advising on broad-based black economic empowerment. He runs the advisory firm Florytouch.