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Ensuring resilience in the face of rising unemployment

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One in three South Africans are currently without a job, as the country battles its highest unemployment rate since 2008. Things could get worse, with new data from Stats SA suggesting that, by the third quarter, the number of jobless people could reach eight million.

These figures follow the July civil unrest in the country, which saw numerous small businesses closing, huge sums of money being lost, and many people left unemployed due to incidents of looting and arson – not to mention the impacts of COVID.

Individuals and small businesses must learn new ways to navigate these rough and unfamiliar terrains, while capitalising on the opportunities presented by technological advancements.

It is time to reconsider the concept of work and consider new sources of income; this is the only way to build resilience in the face of rising unemployment.

Effective use of technology

Tony Abrahall, executive director at First Distribution, believes technology is a key enabler in encouraging entrepreneurship and promoting business growth.

“Social media provides platforms to increase reach and promote offerings to a much broader audience. Cloud technology offerings, such as productivity tools and infrastructure as a service, offer entrepreneurs a much lower barrier to entry through pay-per-use models that ease working capital and reduce the risk for start-ups.”

He adds: “Use of smartphones and payment devices such as Yoco provide budding entrepreneurs with simple and affordable payment mechanisms that will help them sell their offerings much easier. Technology touches every part of our lives and is an absolute necessity in building, running, and growing a business. There are just so many more flexible choices and different financials models and platforms available today to SMEs, to be able to adopt the necessary technology to assist their businesses without massive technology investments.”

Job losses as a result of the unrest were mainly in the SME sector. Nkuli Mbundu, regional sales manager at MicroStrategy, says one way to assist in rebuilding small businesses is to provide B2B online trading platforms that connect buyers and suppliers on credit.”

He believes this would help small businesses to access credit facilities while also delivering their services directly to the customer. “Cloud-based technologies become critical in enabling the industry’s revitalisation.”

Karina Brijlal, marketing manager at Red Hat Sub Saharan Africa, says technology helps entrepreneurs in many ways.

“Social media allows small businesses to reach large customer audiences and to promote their offerings to the right people, at the right time, on the right platform. Websites can easily and cost-effectively be set up. Technology also allows customers to engage with entrepreneurs easily and in real-time. Importantly, e-commerce in South Africa has more than doubled from 2018 to 2020, and this upward trend will continue. What this means is that entrepreneurs and small businesses can bring their offerings to new and expanding audiences.”

All of this requires a deliberate intervention that must happen urgently so that we can bring those unemployed back to employment, as well as to the entrepreneurial sector, where there is a massive opportunity for SMEs to be creating jobs, says Roderick.

This sentiment is shared by Emma El-Karout, founder and MD at One Circle, a community of freelance HR consultants, who believes that learning needs to be democratised. She highlights how organisations are moving towards a blended workforce and why it’s so important to rethink work and employment.

“When we talk about the future of work, we are talking about a blended workforce, with full-timers, part-timers, contractors, freelancers, etc. There are a lot of platforms where individuals can learn and develop new skills. At the same time, the gig economy provides opportunities that are available anywhere around the world. So, when we think job creation, we shouldn’t think about it only within the context of the country.”

It’s equally important to make people aware of such opportunities in order to embrace them fully. Wolfenden says the government needs to take a stronger role in ensuring that information of this kind is out there and accessible to young people. He also believes that the government can play a role in incentivising businesses to engage in these massive reskilling exercises.

Finding your why

A rather different outlook, but equally efficient, is “finding your why”. This is currently the big millennial question, according to futurist and unlearning expert Zanele Njapha. Apart from asking about where we work, when we work, and even how we work, most young people want to know why (beyond just money). This greater question feeds into the enthusiasm to be and to stay in a particular job or field.

“Perhaps even a foundational question, people want to know what the point of work is,” she says. “Hence, you get so many questions around purpose. Millennials want to understand what it means to be part of the workforce, how they fit in, and what contribution they’re making to the world.”

“Think about yourself in the morning; you don’t wake up and think, ‘I can’t wait to fulfil my boss’s purpose’. You should be waking up and saying ‘I can’t wait to fulfil my purpose’. So, how then do we create the link between the organisations we work for and ourselves? That’s one big theme that’s coming up.”

Avoiding past mistakes

Part of being resilient is being able to learn from the past so that you can anticipate future problems. Whether it’s lessons from lockdowns during a pandemic, public unrest and the destruction of property, or a struggling economy and record-high unemployment, it’s crucial to take lessons from these experiences to build resilience.

It may take a while for South Africa to recover from the one-two punch of the pandemic and unrest. The unemployment challenge is no longer the government’s alone. Anyone who can help themselves, should. And, if they’re able to, they can pay it forward by taking others along on the journey.

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