OPINION: Navigating the Covid-19 employment crisis with agility and purpose
JOHANNESBURG - South Africans have proven over an intensely restrictive TWO-month national lockdown that we are a tenacious and determined people. And as we start to plan for a new future based on government’s closely managed risk adjusted strategy, we need every decision in government and business to be made with agility and purpose.
Treasury’s most recent public predictions estimate that between three and seven million more South Africans are at risk of losing their jobs. Now more than ever, we can and must stimulate inclusive and meaningful economic growth while saving lives and flattening the Covid-19 curve.
As the World Economic Forum warns, most countries are headed towards a sudden and unprecedented recession. Reform and restructure across most sectors will underpin our economic recovery including South Africa’s. Although daunting, this task is not impossible. There are already positive signs that both government and business have heeded the Churchillian call to “never let a good crisis go to waste”.
The cornerstone principles of an agile way of working – collaboration, self-organisation and cross-functionality of teams – are alive and kicking in our lockdown economy. In the midst of a global pandemic, an agile approach towards a defined purpose will mean seeing the impact of Covid-19 from the perspective of others, responding with a service that meets them where they are, while adding unique and useful value.
A tough ask in the abstract but perhaps without even being conscious of it, many businesses – both large and small – have already implemented agile approaches to their way of working. Medical aids are partnering with empty hotels to offer safe, quiet quarantine spaces at discounted rates; small restaurants and delis have offered their produce and fresh goods for sale in the absence of diners; while alcohol delivery services have swiftly pivoted to offer grocery deliveries in under-served areas in light of the ban on alcohol sales. New remote working and e-commerce solutions are emerging every day that sustain and create jobs, and these must be supported by responsible regulations that enable safe contributions to the economy and livelihoods.
In education, teaching staff are collaborating beyond the physical staff room as both teachers and learners have had to adapt virtually overnight to online classrooms and remote learning. Many schools are using their limited resources to deliver maximum value to learners, combining the experience and knowledge of seasoned educators with the relative confidence of younger teachers to provide enriching lessons via online platforms.
National Treasury, too, has been agile in its review of our economic demands.
Finance Minister Tito Mboweni for one is planning macroeconomic interventions, which include our people and local businesses to drive and stimulate our economy, while creating much-needed jobs.
Public and ongoing scrutiny over wasteful expenditure, and the adoption of models which down-scale and trim excess spending will help delay or avoid job losses and save South Africans from further difficulty in the months to come.
This, combined with government’s escalated R500 billion economic support package will provide a foundation for our economic and social recovery, as the country emerges from this pandemic.
But businesses and individuals don’t have to develop agile, innovative strategies on their own in their quest to survive the tough months ahead.
The Covid Business Rescue Assistance initiative (Cobra) is just one initiative that has been created to help enterprises navigate our current circumstances and optimise government and private funding. Every day, a virtual Cobra ‘war room’ consolidates the expertise of management consultants, lawyers and turnaround strategists who are able to provide pro-bono legal, accounting, technology and business turnaround expertise to businesses that now find themselves in financial distress.
Other practical interventions specifically targeted at stemming youth unemployment are being made by the likes of Harambee and Jobmatcher. Their general operations give practical meaning to the funding provided by government, and have been designed to empower even the most disheartened job seeker with skills and aptitudes to develop an income. And while they continue to fight the unemployment crisis in our country, they have pivoted their offerings to adapt to our new reality, in a manner that aids the fight against Covid-19, while stimulating our economy.
Harambee, which uses data, innovation and key business partnerships to match unemployed youth to jobs where they are most likely to succeed, are currently using their platform to provide businesses with Covid-19 relief assistance resources. Their interventions have included assistance to claim from the Unemployment Insurance Fund, and comprehensive practical guidance to help businesses set themselves up for survival in our changing, new world.
Jobmatcher is an application-based platform that provides low and unskilled labour in South Africa with the opportunity to find ad-hoc work, while building a verifiable rating for their competencies across a wide range of sectors. Jobmatcher is now using this same application to pay people to stay at home, by encouraging users to post jobs which can be completed by others from home. They have also used their technology to start a social awareness campaign on 3D printed face masks, which they are printing and distributing to hospitals across the country.
It is clear that both government and business will need to act with agility, flexibility and purpose in the months ahead as we balance public health concerns with opportunities for inclusive and meaningful growth. But while these trying times are certainly uncertain, it remains true that, together, there is nothing we cannot defeat.
Adam Craker is the chief executive of IQbusiness @crakeras,