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Youth employment and inclusion: 5 ways to get it right

While the pandemic has affected everyone, the most long-term effects are likely to affect the world’s youth. Many businesses faced with cash flow issues and an uncertain future made the difficult decision to halt hiring, graduate schemes, and apprenticeship programmes. Several of these businesses believed they lacked the bandwidth and resources to hire and train new employees.

That said, there are reasons to be optimistic about the future. Governments around the world are announcing incentives for businesses that recruit young people into the workforce as they stabilise and adjust. Now is the time to take advantage of the available assistance programmes and provide young talent with the opportunities they deserve.

There is one big challenge, however. Youth unemployment in South Africa stands at a staggering 66.5%. This raises the question: Which interventions work?

Many entry-level jobs in South Africa are either part-time or casual and offer little skills training or career development. Furthermore, entry-level jobs often require a minimum of three years’ experience, which means that the youth are never offered any real opportunity to gain the experience they require. So, how can businesses help break this cycle?

Strategies for increasing youth employment and inclusion

There are many strategies for ending youth unemployment, but talk is cheap if these strategies are not implementable. It is critical to equip the youth with the tools and support they need to succeed. But what do these look like? Here are five ideas.

1.    Encourage entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship is a powerful tool in fighting youth unemployment. Entrepreneurship is about creating value in innovative ways or building solutions in ways that haven’t been done before. Businesses should encourage this kind of thinking by giving their people the space to try new ideas and by providing them with the resources to implement these.

It is imperative that the youth develop business, technical, and life skills that extend beyond the business. These youth might not always be in entrepreneurial roles but having skills that will stand them in good stead will not only benefit the business itself, but also help break the unemployment cycle in the long run. Teaching the youth to adapt their approaches to different scenarios – such as changes in climate, economy, or society – will allow them to be agile not only in the workplace, but also in their everyday lives.

2.    Offer on-the-job learning and training

Helping the youth enter the world of work is one of the biggest development challenges the world faces today.

On-the-job training for young employees benefits the youth and impacts the long-term success of the business by helping grow the skilled workforce of tomorrow. Better skills mean better work, thus allowing for more diversity and inclusion and effectively bridging the gap between education and the labour market.

3.    Cross-generational mentorship

Cross-generational mentoring is beneficial to both younger and older generations in terms of leadership development. Research has shown that generationally diverse teams are better at innovating and solving problems.

When different generations share their ideas, skills, and experience, businesses benefit from the knowledge of the older generations and the fresh ideas, new perspectives, and tech-savvy of the youth, resulting in more cohesive teams and, ultimately, a more productive environment.

4.    Breaking the no-job-no-experience cycle

Young people have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. They will continue to struggle to find meaningful employment, and even if they do, they are likely to be impacted by the long-term consequences of lower wages, poorer prospects, and strained mental health.

According to research, employers can help break the vicious ‘no-job-no-experience’ cycle that many disadvantaged young people face by participating in youth employment programmes. Aside from the economic and societal benefits, such as better job prospects for young people with no connections, the research shows significant benefits for businesses looking to engage the youth. Employer-led youth employability programmes are an excellent way to grow talent pipelines, access diverse ideas and skills, and prepare businesses for the future.

Providing the right support

Three elements are crucial to supporting young people in accessing jobs: skills training, financial support, and inclusion. This is because youth are typically willing to work but often lack the on-the-job and soft skills they require. Those looking to start their own businesses also usually lack the start-up capital they need to realise their business goals. As a societal issue, inclusion acts as a barrier to accessing jobs.

Supporting the youth in these three areas will go a long way in helping them access the job market that they need, and that needs them too.

Benefits of hiring young people

Many businesses are often wary of employing youth due to the pervasive notion that they lack loyalty and are unmotivated. There are, however, numerous benefits to hiring young people.

Employing youth means that a business can grow its talent pipeline and secure its workforce for the future. It is also far more cost-effective to develop a workforce than to ‘buy it’ at a later stage. Research shows that young people have a willingness to learn (47%), new ideas and fresh approaches (43%), and the attitudes, optimism, and motivation (42%) to back it up. What’s more, when they engage with their communities, they strengthen their employer’s brand.

Lastly, there is a vastly underutilised business tax benefit to encourage employers to hire young people. The Employment Tax Incentive (ETI) is one of the most powerful SME tax benefits and reduces the employer’s overall Pay-As-You-Earn (PAYE) contribution without affecting individual employee wages. The ETI rewards employers for hiring young people, and these youth gain valuable work training and experience.

Most importantly, employing young people allows businesses to build a diverse workforce that adds value through different skills, perspectives, and experiences.

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