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4 ways we can begin to solve South Africa’s youth unemployment crisis

South Africa’s youth unemployment is at a record high. According to StatsSA, the official unemployment rate in the first quarter of 2021 was 32,6%. Amongst young people aged 15 – 34, this statistic is even worse: 46,3% are unemployed, which means almost one in every two young people in the labour force did not have a job in the first quarter of 2021.

On the surface, the obvious answer to this situation is that there is no work, but that isn’t true. The reality is far more complex and will require corporates, high schools, higher educational institutions, training colleges and the department of basic and higher education working together to solve.

The disconnect between graduates and employers

It’s the age-old problem – you need experience to get a job, but you can’t get a job without experience. In South Africa, we can take this one step further. Most youth are not prepared to choose the right courses when they reach tertiary level and so they study something that isn’t on the current critical skills list or where there is a shortage of skills. 

What they study is not the only problem either. Once they graduate, many do not know how to prepare a CV or how to conduct themselves in the work environment.

In other words, they are completely unprepared to enter the job market and the longer it takes to find a position, the more discouraged they become. The situation is exacerbated by organised labour protecting the existing labour force from youth mandates fearing that their members will be displaced by the younger generation who tend to be quicker adopters of technology and able to adapt to more automated manufacturing environments.

Corporates need to step up 

One in two people unemployed between the ages of 15 and 34 is a national crisis that affects every single South African. When people become disenfranchised, they lose hope and stop actively seeking employment, which leads directly to a rise in social pressures and service delivery protests. This in turn is disruptive for business and compounds the pressures society faces and an ability to provide jobs.

The good news is that there are immediate solutions that can be implemented, but they will require a strong focus from corporates and educational institutions alike.

Here are a few ways that we can begin to solve this problem:

Prepare students for the courses they should choose

This begins in Grade 11 and Grade 12. There are multiple studies each year revealing where there are skill shortages and skills gaps, but this information is not being adequately shared with students when they choose what they will study at a tertiary level. The result is that they hope they’re studying something valuable, but they don’t know and too often they can’t find a job once they graduate. 

As corporates, we need to work closely with institutes of higher learning, presenting the skills we need and engaging with final year students about what the various jobs look like to help them choose the right courses and to prepare them for the transition between studying and working.

Train graduates how to write CVs

This doesn’t exist. Students graduate, are sent out into the world and have no idea how to prepare a CV. The problem is that the first round of most recruitment processes uses filtering systems to cull out any CVs that don’t contain specific keywords. It’s an automated system and the result is that many qualified students never even reach the interview phase, and they have no idea why, leading to the discouragement and disenfranchisement we mentioned earlier. And the worst part is that the longer they remain unemployed, the more unemployable they become. 

Create a conduit to full-time employment

It all comes down to experience. Through FunxionO, we have a graduate programme that exposes graduates to a wide range of leading blue chip manufacturers in the country. We are currently focusing on graduates who have studied industrial engineering, but the programme will grow. The goal is to help graduates become more employable by giving them the skills and experience they need to find placements as industrial engineers beyond the programme. 

We are able to offer these opportunities because we are a provider of process outsourcing. Through fully managed outsourced services, we can easily support additional graduates as they gain work experience. 

Through our graduate programme we deploy graduates to actual sites, from warehousing to manufacturing and FMCG, often under continuous improvement managers who mentor them in developing continuous improvement principles, best practices and also plant design and layout development. This is on top of the operational and business knowledge that we impart to them.

The bigger picture is that we believe that every corporate has the ability and opportunity to support programmes like these – either by working with a provider like FunxionO, or through their own graduate programmes that are designed to give youth experience and not to just check a B-BBEE box. This is about far more than regulations – it’s about the future of our country and there are huge benefits for corporates as well.

For example, we’ve seen corporates give final year students practical projects that they can work on to gain work experience. Many students are absorbed into the business if they perform well on the project, but even if full-time employment is not the end result, the experience gained is invaluable. And the corporates win too. They essentially expand the talent pool and the ideas coming into projects without paying consulting fees. The ideas and innovations that students bring to businesses can lead to a competitive edge if harnessed correctly.

Create a competitive advantage

South Africa’s manufacturing sector has the ability to compete on the global stage with the right focus on skills and development. The right balance of youth and experience will support unionised labour’s goals while also bringing quicker adopters of technology and youthful agility into manufacturing environments. If we can successfully upskill the entire sector by working together, we can create more employment and grow South Africa’s economy. We just need to start collectively paying more attention to the next generation workforce that is currently being neglected.

Learn more about how Adcorp’s FunxionO is making a difference and what we can do for you! Visit us today!

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