Johannesburg - In the eyes of the youth of the nation, creativity is deemed a new currency, and therefore the business community in South Africa must start recognising the contribution of the younger generation in the workplace, to avoid a mismatch of skills available to what is required, warns Anusha Naicker, the inspirational chief executive of the International Youth Foundation.
Against a backdrop of the fourth industrial revolution, Naicker said businesses had no choice but to invest in youth, although job opportunities depended on the performance of the economy, while scalable initiatives to bridge the skills gap to ensure youth are employable would send the right message.
“It's our job to create a platform for young people, ensuring inclusivity, and empowering them to use their voices. We must start listening to young people when they speak, because they have much value to add,” said Naicker.
To date, the global non-profit governmental organisation she’s headed since 2015 has run programmes internationally, benefiting almost 8 million people in 100 countries.
“Together with local community-based organisations and a network of corporate, foundation and multilateral partners, we connect young people with opportunities to transform their lives. We believe that educated, employed, engaged young people possess the power to solve the world’s toughest problems.
“So we focus our youth development efforts on three linked objectives: unlocking agency, driving economic opportunity, and making systems more inclusive. Our vision is to see young people inspired and equipped to realise the future they want,” she added.
She said the foundation she headed was transforming lives by developing internationally benchmarked and effective programmes to address youth employability challenges by providing sustainable opportunities.
Driven by the idea of active and inclusive learning, Naicker said their Skills for Life programme, supported by the Embassy of Ireland and the De Beers Group, offered foundational interpersonal skills to promote educational equity.
“Racism, homophobia and misogyny remain omnipresent hurdles in the quest for socio-economic equality. It is for this reason that Skills for Life equips youth with an understanding of diversity and the importance of it,” she added.
“This often unintentional intolerance is something that Skills for Life addresses. We cannot effectively grow and learn if we don’t understand the fundamental nuances of human difference, and IYF’s programme addresses this gap by providing students with the skills for life needed to enhance their growth from enlightened learner to inspired worker,” Naicker said.
Furthermore, in partnership with the Department of Higher Education and Training, Naicker said the foundation was working across technical and vocational education training colleges in South Africa, using the Skills for Life programme to equip lecturers with the tools and training to teach learners fundamental life skills and enhanced technical teaching and learning. Most young South Africans were reached by the foundation through programmes run at technical and vocational colleges.
In the Limpopo region, they were running a massive initiative addressing economic inequality in partnership with De Beers, teaching students at technical and vocational colleges as part of the Skills for Life training initiative.
While all partnerships were important, one of the alliances she was particularly proud of was that with the US technology firm Google, through which the foundation’s Skills for Success initiative gave young people in Africa an opportunity to complete the internationally recognised Google IT professional certificate.
Google IT students who had completed their training had been complimentary of the initiative, saying that, apart from the confidence boost it had given them, it had helped open doors to careers.
Naicker said this aligned with the broader goal of further growing Africa’s rapidly expanding technology industry amid the advent of the fourth industrial revolution. Last month, the Skills for Success programme celebrated its first cohort of 192 graduates – an outstanding achievement that had led to a continued partnership with Google. Based on its success, the global tech giant continued to support the programme.
These outcomes resonate with a 2018 study by Deloitte Global and the Global Business Coalition for Education in support of a youth skills and innovation initiative which warned that by 2020 the global economy would have a shortage of 40 million workers with a tertiary education, a shortage of 45 million workers with a secondary education, and a surplus of 95 million low-skilled workers.
But the report said that these deficits and surpluses were not equally distributed globally. For example, China was anticipated to have a deficit of 24.5 million workers, while sub-Saharan Africa’s workforce would double to 20% of the total global workforce – up 10% from today.
Warning that this uneven distribution of population-driven talent and employment opportunities represented a potential global mismatch in supply and demand, the report added that there were seemingly unlimited possibilities related to increased human connectivity and access to knowledge.
These possibilities would likely be multiplied by emerging technology in AI, robotics, automation, 3D printing, biotechnology, and quantum computing that could potentially displace more than 5 million jobs by 2020, with most of this loss concentrated in low- and middle-skill jobs.
For businesses to remain competitive, the report stated that they should rethink how and where work is done, thereby potentially reshaping their organisational structures, cultures, and processes to fit these changing developments. This report was produced before the global lockdown brought about in March 2020 by the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic, resulting in lockdowns across the globe. However, they recognised key initiatives which then were already having a positive effect on transformation of South Africa’s youth.
The report highlighted opportunities for the business community to contribute to the development and growth of the future workforce.
Two examples of best practices to reach and support youth globally were highlighted in the report. The first is the Harambee youth employment accelerator, which connects youth to employers they partnered with to enable the latter to understand the former’s needs and give them training in specific skills.
Supported by the South African Qualifications Authority, the second initiative was a national career advice portal, an online career pathway information system with information about more than 1 000 learning pathways, 500 occupational pathways, self- assessments, contact information, and an e-portfolio option.
As high rates of youth unemployment persist, employers struggle with finding and retaining talent aligned to their human capital needs, creating resource shortages within increasingly complex and competitive landscapes.
Asked from her experience with youth across the world what was the common issue cutting across the youth globally, Naicker said the challenge of teenage pregnancies was a recurring theme – for example, in the United Kingdom and many parts of Africa. “But young people really want to be part of the discussion, and particularly when it's a topic that involves them,” she added.
“Our challenge is to corporates and companies to take on youth and place them in roles where they can earn a decent living. Often these individuals are trained entry-level workers who want to make a difference, not only to their organisations, but also to their communities,” she concluded.
*Edwin Naidu writes for Higher Education Media Services.