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What’s needed to drive youth employment in South Africa?

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More than ever before, South African youth find themselves in dire need of solutions to counter the rising rate of unemployment in the country. Recently, this figure was placed at an eye-watering 74.7% by Statistics South Africa (Stats SA), under the expanded definition of unemployment, which now includes discouraged job seekers. The rate rose to a record of 43.2% in the first quarter of 2021, from 42.6% in the previous quarter.

It may take a while before government solutions come to fruition, however, with mention of future public and private sector partnerships during Finance Minister Tito Mboweni’s budget speech earlier in the year. But there is no need to wait for that, and the situation is not as hopeless as one might think.

In an era that is so advanced digitally, and an economic climate that is overwhelmed by a coronavirus pandemic and constant load shedding, to answer the question of what is needed to drive youth employment needs more creativity. The answer lies with you, the individual, and your ability to be creative.

Apart from traditional methods of seeking employment and generating income, this generation has numerous avenues that require thinking outside of the box. But how do those avenues clash with the previously mentioned challenges, high data costs, and a vast number of youths being without access to either the tools, skills, or the resources to embrace them? What are some of the workarounds worth considering?

There are numerous opportunities and creative possibilities for young people seeking to make the best out of these trying times. Here are a few ideas.

1.    Entrepreneurship and creativity

This is the first and most important solution to counter high rates of youth unemployment in the country. It’s crucial that young people do away with the listless mindset of waiting for jobs to arrive when there are none. Rather, they should find opportunities to provide much-needed services and solutions within their communities. If you ever dreamt of one day owning a business of your own, there is no better time like right now, because you have the time!

Start with what you have and where you are. If your services are good enough, money will follow you. According to 26-year-old Lonwabo Marele, founder and CEO of wealth magazine Successful Journals, most young entrepreneurs get discouraged because they think they lack funding when they really lack initiative and drive.

“Most don’t even start because they think they need funding, but funding is the second step after you start. The first mission is to work and improve your business idea, finding a like-minded team and working towards building something,” he says, adding that patience is a core element in business success.

He points to the case of popular local online car retailer We Buy Cars, which was started in 2001 by two brothers. “Driving youth employment in SA takes a lot of hard work, passion, and patience because there is no overnight success; we have to work through it. Most people only know about We Buy Cars in 2021, because it’s popping up everywhere on social media, but it was a good 20 years in the making.”

2.    Incubator spaces or start-up hubs

Incubator spaces, or start-up hubs, help to counter the common challenges faced by some new entrepreneurs and businesses, which include a lack of internet connectivity, lack of resources like computers and other equipment, and the ongoing threat of load shedding.

Incubators have the sole purpose of reducing entrepreneur and start-up business failure by offering sustainable and fundamental entrepreneurial support through much-needed resources, network platforms, and much more. They are described as office, industrial, or high-tech spaces usually owned or managed by a local government development board and intended to provide an economical and supportive environment for start-ups.

If you are a start-up, sole proprietor, entrepreneur, or freelancer facing these challenges, take advantage of these facilities if there are any near you. As of 2019, there were nearly 60 incubators in South Africa. Visit Entrepreneur South Africa for a list describing each one, its location, offerings, and how to apply.

The rental rates are usually vastly below market, there is some sharing of services and amenities, and mentoring services are provided. The new business is usually encouraged to leave the “nest” once it reaches a certain volume of business or it achieves a previously approved and agreed upon business plan.

3.    Online upskilling

The internet is flooded with free online study opportunities that can help youth become more employable. These are in various forms including online courses, MOOCs, and tutorials. Some even offer certificates at the end of completion.

A simple Google search of free online courses in SA can give you a list to get you started. Google itself offers free lessons on Google AdWords for aspiring digital marketers, with a certificate at the end that can earn you a high-paying job – and you don’t even need a matric certificate to enrol. Having some knowledge in your bank will give you a competitive edge against other jobseekers in a similar field of interest.

4.    YouTube University and content creation

People don’t just wake up knowing how to do something; they must at least learn the basics of their craft to get started, whether that’s a job, a business, or even a hobby. At the start of this article, I mentioned three key things worth remembering, namely the digital age, creativity, and you, the individual.

Every young person must enrol themselves into ‘YouTube University’, a generic title given to free YouTube-based educational content in the form of tutorials. There is a tutorial for just about anything these days and they can all be accessed free of charge. After you have gathered the basics, your creativity is your only limit.

If you know a few tricks of your own that you think a vast number of people would be interested in learning, you might want to consider creating YouTube content of your own. There are a lot of young YouTube content creators who have gone on to make millions within the platform.

5.    Digital footprint and online self-marketing

Nothing is more surprising and worrying than to find young people still fussing about heading out to physically print CVs to deliver them door-to-door, in 2021. This process is not only futile, but is also time-consuming and money-wasting. You should, however, invest your time and money in ensuring that you create a good online presence for yourself, turning your name into a brand.

It’s advisable to open accounts on different social media platforms, prioritising LinkedIn, and having a good biography that lists your interests and skillsets. Stay active on the platform and make sure that your name and brand are verifiable via a link to your previous work. Potential clients and employers are always on the lookout for good portfolios.

6.    Corporate social investments

Businesses also have a role to play. This year’s Youth Month is perhaps the toughest in the history of celebrating it, in commemoration of the Soweto Uprising of 16 June 1976. Just like that youth who fiercely stood up to face the tyranny of apartheid, another uprising must happen to fight a new tyrant, that of unemployment and poverty.

But this time, the youth could use a little more help with resources to conduct such a major uprising, and that help can only come from the top down. Companies can help by ploughing back resources into communities in townships and rural areas, be it underdeveloped schools, incubator hubs, and other similar initiatives that help young people be more creative and get an edge in the digital age.

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