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CAPE TOWN - It is a well-known fact that South Africa has an extremely high rate of unemployment. Compared with adults, the unemployment rate among the youth, irrespective of educational level, is significantly higher. Close to 30% of young persons (15 to 24 years) appear not to be in employment, education or training.

When the age margins for the youth population are expanded to the early thirties, the unemployment rate reaches almost 56%. Many youngsters do not find a job because of the mismatch between their education or training and the needs of the labour market. Adding to this bleak picture, it is predicted that technology will replace jobs, or rather replace the people who hold those jobs.

These figures are not encouraging for the unemployed. They also don’t paint a positive picture for learners who are preparing for their final school exams before entering higher education or the workplace.

There is hope

Fortunately, the forecasts do not only predict gloom. Reading between the lines, there is a lot of hope for the future of human work. A recent article in the Harvard Business Review highlights several human characteristics that will be extremely relevant in the future world of work. These include imagination, creativity and strategy. Along the same lines, a recent Deloitte report mentions that the capacity for creativity and problem-solving will set one employee apart from another in future work settings.

Work activities that involve these abilities are not that easy to automate and therefore the involvement of people (rather than robots) is almost guaranteed. Furthermore, a basic internet search of non-technical workplace skills and analyses of job advertisements have confirmed the importance of these and many other skills. These include teamwork, communication, self-management, planning and organising, initiative, critical thinking and adaptability. These skills are often commonly referred to as 21st-century skills or employability skills.

Employability skills are skills that are necessary for finding, keeping and being successful in a job. In times of high unemployment and work environments marked by the technological takeover, employers have a larger pool of applicants from which to choose and will favour those with well-rounded employability skills.

Although these skills can be developed, some of them come naturally to many individuals, in which case they can be regarded as strengths. And because they are extremely relevant in the workplace, we can even call them workplace strengths.

Strengths can be defined as underlying qualities that give us energy, help us to grow and lead to high levels of performance. For example, if someone has a strength in terms of strategic mindedness, it is likely that he or she will be energised by focusing on the future and taking a strategic perspective on the issues and challenges with which he or she is confronted. Such a person may play a valuable role in any organisation – particularly in the current volatile world of work, where organisations often need to be flexible to adjust their strategy to cope effectively with the challenges.

Identifying strengths

To differentiate yourself from the thousands of applicants in the same position as you, you need to understand what it is that makes you stand out.

One way of doing this is to identify and reflect on “defining moments” in all the areas of your life. This could include school, part-time jobs, volunteer work and previous full-time employment. Identify times when you felt energised and performed at your best – remember that we are energised by our strengths. Ask yourself questions such as: “What did I learn about myself and my strengths from these situations? What type of work really energises me?”

Discussions with friends and colleagues who shared these environments with you provide a good platform for identifying these underlying strengths.

This strengths-based approach turns individual development upside down. Instead of focusing on weaknesses that need to be overcome, it focuses on natural talents and on finding ways to complement them with further use and development.

However, this approach should not provide an excuse for not being aware of and developing other important qualities and skills. For example, if teamwork does not come naturally to you, it might be good to challenge yourself to go beyond what you regard as your natural talents.

It is therefore of the greatest importance to identify opportunities where your newly acquired skills, as well as your natural employability talents, can be developed to enhance your chances of getting the job you really want.

Dr Karina de Bruin is the managing director of JvR Academy, a division of the JvR Africa Group.