South Africa is a country dominated by youth, with 52% of the population under the age of 25.
Theory states that the country has a great future with abundance in labour reserves for our growing nation – a good position to be in when many developed countries face the problem of an ageing population and the subsequent, future demands on state healthcare and support systems.
However, the reality in South Africa is that we have young graduates unable to find work and many of them competing for what is considered minimum wage.
The sub-Saharan Africa youth unemployment rate is growing at a fast pace. According to the International Labour Organisation, it is 11,8% for people between the ages of 15 and 24 on the continent.
When local figures are applied, South Africa’s plight is more pronounced, with 63,1% of the youth finding themselves with few employment opportunities available.
“There is no doubt that the position we find ourselves in demands action,” says Motlatsi Mkalala, senior manager for youth customer financial solutions at Standard Bank, South Africa.
Mkalala believes that if we are to meet the aspirations of our youth by building an effective economy that offers opportunities for all, this challenge cannot be left to government alone. Concerted efforts are also needed by the financial services industry, business and major corporations.
“Needless to say, the efforts of individual citizens and those growing the economy through entrepreneurial SMEs are also required to address what is a national priority,” Mkalala adds.
Youth are becoming more educated which bodes well for an economy that can no longer rely on the production of commodities for much of its prosperity.
Based on current African trends that are mirrored locally, it is estimated that 59% of 20 to 24 year olds will have had secondary educations by 2030 – compared to only 42% today.
With this major building block in place, policies can be introduced to maximise the chances of providing South Africa’s youth with a fighting chance to achieve economic success. An example is the Employment Tax Incentive Act, which allows companies to claim back some tax for employing young workers for two years.
“We have to acknowledge, though, that this subsidy alone will not solve youth unemployment,” Mkalala says. “However, it will help young, inexperienced workers gain experience, access good jobs in the formal sector and improve their employment prospects in the long run.
“As a nation, we also need to lean on various funding models i.e. educational loans, seed funding, CSI with educational themes, entrepreneurial developmental-financing and facilitating partnerships, whether by themselves or with other capitalists, to bring opportunities to the young.
“Practical ventures that are a great example of this are the ‘incubators’ and workshops that are being implemented by banks and private companies to help businesses and entrepreneurs get ideas to market,” he says.
“In addition, practical steps to advise youth about opportunities in South Africa’s labour market are necessary to reinforce policy and corporate social investment (CSI) interventions.”
Standard Bank has launched a new venture to encourage those about to leave school and university students to assimilate the tools they need to build an economic future.
The bank is partnering with HDI Youth Marketeers in three SHIFT events this year, which are aimed at helping the youth learn about how to take their personal brand to the next level; a partnership with The Hookup Dinner (THUD), a sub-Saharan African network of emerging entrepreneurs brought together by three core values – to connect, engage and contribute to each other’s success – in creating a Youth Day celebration and masterclass for students this week; and the upcoming Standard Bank Youth Expo in partnership with BrandedYouth, which takes place at the Sandton Convention Centre on 6 and 7 August.
“The Youth Expo is our biggest youth project this year and will combine the elements of a career exhibition and youth empowerment conference,” Mkalala says. “Its objective is to assist young people to realise that, although the future may appear challenging, opportunities do exist.
“It shows, too, that business is concerned enough to assist with practical advice and the provision of ‘how-to’ tools that will hopefully set many youngsters on the path to creating their own enterprises, and others on a constructive path to obtain training in sectors where work is available.”
As a side objective, the Expo hopes to raise R3-million through donations to be used to assist deserving youths to enter a university or other tertiary institutions. It will run for two days, offering insights into the media and entertainment industries; business and entrepreneurship; finance and accounting; and technology and innovation.
Companies will highlight opportunities available, while institutions will offer financial assistance and career guidance. Leading educational institutions will offer advice to younger attendees and outline available study opportunities.
The wide scope of the event is deliberate. Standard Bank wishes to attract young people from high schools and tertiary institutions, and offer them access to a platform that is multi-faceted and will add to the appeal of the event. The more who attend, the more who will be exposed to the opportunities that exist.
“There is a need for young South Africans to look forward with hope – it is believed that through an offering of this sort, many positive results can be achieved,” Mkalala says.