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Last week I delivered an address on youth development and job creation. I had to concentrate my mind to say something pertinent and constructive. Hopefully, I could identify some perceptions that were less than glib; we hear so much about the youth problem that is both alarming and unconvincing.
I remembered that as an undergraduate, I had been introduced to Margaret Mead’s work which illustrated that adolescence, and youth, were sociological constructions, unknown in primitive cultures where males were either boys or men. Civilised societies have lengthened the period of youth until it has become a kind of limbo between the regulation of childhood and the responsibility of adulthood.
Accountability for one’s own progress and destiny has been delayed. We have forgotten the value of teaching children to be self-sufficient. Spoon-feeding has led to dependence and even a mindset of entitlement.
When trying to find solutions to the problem of unemployed youth, we must recognise that the needs of an 18-year-old school leaver with, or without, a matric pass, those of a graduate aged 23 and those of a 34-year-old are very different. In fact, neither the needs nor the problem expires at the age of 35; an unemployed person of 50 deserves equal consideration.
It is only in SA that excuses on the grounds of immaturity are made for the behaviour of a person in his thirties. Such people are often married with family responsibilities. On the other hand, society fears the unemployed teen or 20-something, for this person is restless in his or her frustration and is less likely to behave responsibly.
That is precisely the reason that we approach this from a youth perspective. Hopelessness and middle age is not nearly as combustible as a combination of youthful ambition and the brick wall of rejection.
Our civilisation and business progress have resulted in a belief that a job carries a minimum wage and employee benefits and is not so much about work, or, to an employer, is a budget item related to a predetermined post structure.
There are three ways in which jobs can be created: the government can do so, and, in the process, run the country into the ground when the money runs out; or the economy can grow and the private sector will increase the number of posts in their post structures to meet the demands of the market; or people can employ themselves.
We place considerable reliance on the last option, but this is impeded by the incapacity of many to employ themselves successfully because they lack the skills to do so or because entrepreneurship is seen to be quick wealth creation rather than painful contentment with a salary the business can afford.
Self-employment carries no less work and effort than any other and is mostly less lucrative and very risky. However, older people who are, or have been, employed have a much higher success rate in starting and running small businesses because their experience is valuable and they have knowledge and networks, unlike young unemployed people.
What would the effects be if there were more encouragement, both in terms of funding and support for older people to start businesses, leaving the jobs for younger people?
It might just occur that some jobs are created to accommodate the talent that emerges, for, surely, budgets should include the value of human capital.
* Andrew Layman is the CEO of the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry.