South Africa’s Growth Depends on Its Youth

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According to the World Economic Forum, Africa will be home to a billion youth by 2050. South Africa alone has a youth population of 20.6 million, making up 35.7 percent of the country’s total population of about 57.7 people.

But even though a youthful population presents a significant opportunity in promoting the growth and advancement of any economy, factors such as disparity in educational quality and poverty, among others pose a huge risk in Africa.

In South Africa, unemployment has left thousands of youth feeling hopeless. This has largely been attributed to a slow-growing economy, which is struggling to create opportunities for those looking to break into the labour market.

According to Statistics South Africa, the unemployment rate among this age group was 55.2 percent in the 1st quarter of 2019. Among graduates in this age group, the unemployment rate was 31.0 percent during this period compared to 19.5 percent in the 4th quarter of 2018 – an increase of 11,4 percent.

In order to address this, the South African government is adopting more strategies to secure a brighter future for its youth. During the 2019 World Economic Forum in January, South Africa’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa revealed that the country would be investing in more programmes to equip youth in schools and colleges with digital skills that will boost their future employment prospects, thereby growing the economy. At the recent State of the Nation Address, the president announced that he has secured R840bn in funding towards job creation. While this is a welcome relief particularly for South Africa’s youth, the emphasis should be on closing the skills gap considering that the world of work is changing due to continuous technological advancements.

For instance, according to Mercer’s Global Talent Trends 2019 Survey , 78 percent of executives in South Africa predict significant disruption in the next three years. With the threat of new competition, technology transformation and rising customer expectations as top drivers of industry disruption, it’s no wonder that a majority of executives believe more than 20% of current jobs will cease to exist by 2022. edX’s 2018 survey findings reveal that employees will require a hybrid set of skills in technical, future-ready leadership and essential power in the new digital economy.

However, there are significant human capital risks – from the inability to close the skills gap to low engagement – that can slow the progress of digital transformation. With many graduates leaving school without the desired skillsets that could make them employable by companies at home or abroad, it creates uncertainty. While initiatives such as the Youth Employment Service (a collaboration between government, business and labour) offer a great opportunity for paid quality work experience for a million unemployed youth, skills gap remains a critical risk for companies to adapt in the new digital economy. As such, more organisations should rethink their strategies in preparing for the workforce of the future in order to accelerate their growth plans.

Mercer’s Global Talent Trends 2019 survey highlights the importance of skill diversity and overall change in the way that work is delivered. In leveraging against the backdrop of the Fourth Industrial Revolution in securing economic opportunities and growth, human skills, such as complex problem solving, inclusive leadership, social collaboration, remain essential to digital transformation.

African youth are among the most talented people in the world. Quick to learn and highly motivated, they also have the ability to work under pressure, while developing vibrant ideas that could be massively transformative when given guidance. Once they are able to receive adequate training to help them seize those opportunities, everything changes. Avenues to employment such as entrepreneurship open up, and attitudes towards work change. Economic growth improves and everyone in the society benefits.

With this in mind, organisations should look at where to find future talent, how to access and build critical capabilities in order to capitalize on the booming youth population in South Africa and the rest of Africa. As this generation desires flexibility and mobility – they’re not looking for a long rewarding career with one firm, but rather a series of rewarding opportunities that offer personal and professional satisfaction. With a deeper understanding of their particular needs, wants and motivations, as well as the advice they value, organisations can design a talent value proposition that appeals to our youth.

With hybrid skillsets gaining strength in 2019, South Africa requires greater collaboration between government, business and labour in keeping up with the rapidly changing skill demand of jobs today. In a world of disruption, South Africa, and the rest of Africa, can capitalize on unpredictable market trends by unlocking the potential opportunities presented by a booming youth population. Investing in Africa’s youth will ensure that we solve some of today’s challenges to create rewarding and more secure futures for our continent.