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Young people must take responsibility for solving youth unemployment. This was the overriding sentiment at a special session on youth unemployment at this year’s One Young World summit.
One Young World, hosted last weekend in Johannesburg, is an annual summit that brings together over 1 300 young leaders from 190 countries to discuss pressing world issues. Delegates were guided and addressed by counsellors including Kofi Annan, Bob Geldof, Richard Branson, Muhammad Yunus, Jamie Oliver, Maria Ramos and Arianna Huffington.
Today, a quarter of the world’s youth neither work nor study. Among the delegates at the summit, 74 percent believe governments are not doing enough to address this, but 91 percent feel it is possible to solve the problem. The “how” was the central focus of the dynamic session on the challenge of youth unemployment.
The core challenge was best described by a young delegate from Kenya, Suleiman Ngondi, when he asked: “How do we tap the talent of the unskilled to help them create wealth and become independent?”
Jeremy Lamri from France, a delegate speaker who founded an online recruitment website called Monkey Tie, insisted that it was the responsibility of the youth to increase their employability. He explained how three things were necessary to pull the youth out of unemployment: audacity, innovation and optimism.
Efehan Danisman from Turkey proposed that education’s focus needed to change to encourage young people to develop initiative and a willingness for calculated risk. James Eder, a young entrepreneur from the UK, enriched this when he said: “Learn by doing – there is only so much you can learn by studying.”
While many delegates and counsellors stressed the important role of government and the private sector, Huffington, the founder of The Huffington Post, summarised the day with one simple message: “Recognise the incredible potential you have to create your own destiny – simply waiting is not going to do it.”
So if you find yourself as one of the many unemployed youth, what must you do? Don’t wait around for a job – create one. Take risks and start small if need be. If the job with a cozy bonus and pin-striped suit doesn’t exist at the moment, don’t sit back and lament – get out and get your hands dirty. Try something. Fail at something.
Employers of youth must not see the lack of experience as a detriment but rather look for ways to harness the creativity and dedication of young people.
The youth themselves must look at how they can employ their peers. Yashin Pillay, the executive chairman of the National Youth Development Agency, was the final speaker. He explained how, with other government entities, R2.7 billion had been invested in getting young entrepreneurs to create jobs for other young people.
He said the problem of youth employment was not new and was not restricted to South Africa: 94 percent of the delegates voted that failure to reduce youth unemployment in the world would lead to further civil unrest.
Pillay concluded by saying that there was no silver bullet to resolve youth unemployment and unconventional solutions were needed to address an unconventional problem. His opinion, agreed to by the summit participants, was that the youth themselves were best positioned to provide these solutions.
Pierre Heistein is the convener of UCT’s Applied Economics for Smart Decision Making course. Follow him on Twitter @PierreHeistein