Technological progress has accelerated productivity within organisations. However, in the modern business world, this has also created a major societal problem: the stark mismatch of skilled people for available jobs.

In South Africa, the youth skilling challenge is monumental. It is an issue that is exacerbated by global forces, and is manifested differently according to location — therefore, understanding this is paramount to successfully addressing the present skills challenge.

Marthle du Plessis, PwC Africa workforce of the future platform leader, says: “We need to invest in people by preparing them for the jobs of today and – equally important – of tomorrow. This, in turn, will lead to greater economic growth and shared prosperity across geographies and sectors. Job creation and the support to upskill are also a critical part of this equation.”

In South Africa, rural and urban areas are separate – like with most nations. A majority of the country’s skills-deprived youth can be found in townships and informal settlements, which consist of impoverished communities with working-age people who are desperate for work.

According to 2021/2022 figures published by the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA), 15% of South Africa’s population reside in townships and informal settlements.

“Due to the distance between township and metropolitan centres, the demand for quick services and commodities has resulted in the formation of township economies over the years that focus on food and grocery retailing,” du Plessis says. “Small retailers in townships and informal settlements sell food, liquor and vegetables; and while the informality varies from township to township, the market for food and grocery stores has grown rapidly and become very competitive.”

The expansion of township economies

When it comes to investing in township economies, we have seen that profit is not the primary motivator. In recent years there has been an investment in socially conscious and other enterprises due to local governments’ various interventions, initiatives and promotions for sustainable surroundings.

Examples of such enterprises include waste management, awareness campaigns, criminal reformation and after-school tutoring.

Carla Greenland, PwC South Africa UNICEF project manager, says: “The youth’s interest in tourism, construction and agriculture is also accelerating. Due to a growing interest by international tourists in the township lifestyle, culture and landmarks, local tourism societies have organised themselves to create safe routes and liaise with local businesses to create memorable educational and entertainment experiences. As a result, there has been a ripple effect in sparking young artisans who showcase their art, skills and designs to international guests.”

Entrepreneurship Community Hubs

In 2022, through PwC’s collaboration with UNICEF, both organisations supported the University of Pretoria to launch the Mamelodi Business Hub, an Entrepreneurship Community Hub designed to aid and upskill budding and existing entrepreneurs in the informal sector.

Professor Alex Antonites, University of Pretoria Head: Department of Business Management, says: “The focus of the Hub is to implement community development initiatives to enhance the development of entrepreneurs and create a space for social innovation.

“The Mamelodi Business Hub also focuses on enhancing and developing entrepreneurship through different services and interventions that will contribute to the development of the local community, and address issues that are essential for change.”

In its new report, Catalysing township revival through entrepreneurship development, PwC outlines key steps that organisations can take to develop a successful Entrepreneurship Community Hub. They include:

* Stimulating and establishing new businesses and entrepreneurial activities;

* Creating opportunities for service learning;

* Assisting with the provision of business formation; and

* Mentorship of budding entrepreneurs.

Muriel Mafico, UNICEF South Africa deputy representative, says: “The Mamelodi Business Hub serves as a great practical example of how Entrepreneurship Community Hubs can meaningfully contribute to uplifting and upskilling communities. At the Hub, the level of education of people in the community is considered when developing support programmes, and variables such as language barriers, basic financial skills and basic management practices are considered.

“It also develops programmes that address the specific needs of entrepreneurs by providing them with in-depth insight into the functional and operational aspects of various types of businesses. This way, entrepreneurs learn how to get started or enhance what they are already doing — and connect to a network of community partners and resource support.”

“It’s evident that we can make a greater societal impact if we all work together,” du Plessis says. “Supporting talented and hopeful entrepreneurs requires various key sectors and players to pool their talent and resources – like we did with the Mamelodi Business Hub – to develop centres where more people who require access to skills and resources can gain that access. This way, we can create a more sustainable future for everyone.”