Youth Month 2024: How society can work to ensure a hopeful future for our youth

    In 10 to 15 years teenagers and professionals under the age of 35 will be the driving force of South Africa’s economy. Youth are the future entrepreneurs, public sector leaders, NGO heads and C-suite executives of the country.

    Youth day stock image from Canva

    In 10 to 15 years teenagers and professionals under the age of 35 will be the driving force of South Africa’s economy. Youth are the future entrepreneurs, public sector leaders, NGO heads and C-suite executives of the country. It’s important therefore for both the private and public sectors to play an equal part in equipping young people with the skills, knowledge and opportunities to capacitate them for these important tasks. Youth Month calls on us all to reflect on this and to re-strategise the role we play in their future development. 

    Private sector must begin absorbing youth staff

    The tourism sector has the capacity to absorb a large number of employees, some positions with low barriers to entry, making it an ideal choice for school leavers and first jobbers. Starting off as a waiter, bar person, in housekeeping, at the front desk or anywhere else within an operation, offers young people the opportunity to learn ‘on the job’ and to progress through the ranks to a managerial position.

    “I started as a hotel receptionist after getting my diploma in tourism, then moved into reservations. In 2015 I joined Radisson Hotels as a reservations agent. In 2021, the position of Marketing Manager at Radisson Blu Hotel Waterfront came up and I applied for and got the job,”

    -says Genevie Langner, now Reservations Manager at Radisson Blu Hotel Waterfront, who represents an example of women in tourism who have grabbed every opportunity as it came along. 

    “The soft skills you need including good communications, diplomacy, customer service and problem solving are something we are generally good at, so a career in tourism is a good match for womens’ natural inclinations.”

    The hard skills that are learned in these service positions also translate between companies in the sector, from hospitality in hotels, airlines, cruise ships to super yachts – the opportunities are endless.

    Skills development to future-proof

    The United Nations notes that one of the key barriers to children’s digital literacy is the lack of teachers’ and trainers’ expertise, a shortfall when it comes to ICT infrastructure and poor connectivity. 

    “We need to future-proof children so that they are equipped to apply for jobs that require digital and development skills,” says Andrew Bourne, Regional Manager, Africa | Zoho Corporation. “And we can help do this by ensuring that educators have the skills to encourage children to become more digitally literate.”

    The most in demand expertise and one of the most challenging to get on the South African market actually remains inside the software development field. Software development was recently named by the Department of Home Affairs as one of South Africa’s scarce skills, with a 22% growth in this industry expected before 2030.

    “With low-code platforms, citizen developers can create complex and powerful business applications without requiring costly and lengthy training.”

    Most low-code application development can be managed with users who only have moderate technical knowledge.

    Addressing critical skills shortages

    When it comes to youth unemployment in South Africa, we need to rewrite the narrative that currently underpins the challenge because we don’t have a jobs problem, we have a skills problem, according to Ursula Fear, Senior Talent Programme Manager at Salesforce.Empowering young people with the right digital skills, together with an agile approach to learning, is central to solving unemployment problems on the one hand, and eliminating the need, on the other hand, for companies to import the digital skills they need in their organisations. 

    “Ensuring the youth are equipped with the right skills needed to thrive in the new, digitally transformed world of work requires a holistic, integrated approach that is focussed on fit-to-purpose skills and whole-person development,” says Fear. “It also requires the collective effort of stakeholders across industries, because business should be a platform for change.”

    Our partnership with The Collective X is one of the examples that we are addressing this. It is a private sector-led initiative aimed at addressing the massive gap between the oversupply of digital jobs and the undersupply of people with the skills to fill them in South Africa. It’s a collective effort to equip our country’s youth with the digital skills needed to radically increase employment and make a meaningful contribution to the economy.”

    Keletso Mpisane, Head of Blink by MiWay, believes that technology holds the key to a dynamic future for South Africa’s youth. “We need to equip young people with the kind of digital skills that the workplace needs and demands. In the insurance industry, there are myriad opportunities for data analysts, developers, software engineers and more. Conversations about the youth need to be future-facing, and that includes considering what the demands of the workplace will be in the next 15 to 20 years, and digital-first is certainly where it’s at.”

    To this end, Mpisane says we need to, as a collective, ensure we’re educating the youth about the employment opportunities in technology while simultaneously empowering them with the skills needed to thrive in a hyper-connected, digital-first world. 

    Supporting our youth benefits everybody

    Supporting our youth is crucial and we need to ensure that our actions now will benefit them so they can provide a better future for upcoming generations. Using readily available resources to support our youth is a good way to go. These come in the form of causes or organisations that are actively trying to instil positive change for our youth – by supporting them, you support the youth.

    One such cause is The Amy Foundation who take youth from vulnerable and challenged communities under their wing, and offers them a skills-development programme which makes learning enjoyable, and over time, prepares them for work, employment, and entrepreneurship.

    Dalit Shekel, CEO of Relate Bracelets says:

    “Supporting our youth can feel overwhelming, but it can be as simple as buying a Relate bracelet, where the funds directly support youth initiatives. You can also get in touch with these incredible causes, like Amy Foundation, to see how you can help. Every small action makes a big difference.”