The month of June gave rise to a raft of activities celebrating the country’s youth. It was also a stark reminder of the plight of young people when it comes to the burden of unemployment.

“But that doesn’t mean there isn’t hope,” says Larisha Naidoo, head of Anglo American Zimele. “There are three ways that young people can improve their prospects for employment.”

Upskill yourself to enable access to employment opportunities

Naidoo points out that close to most of South Africa’s settlements there are community centres and places where young people can go to access opportunities for skilling in industries that have a high demand for skilled individuals. Young people can also explore voluntary work to develop skills, these are accessible in many community projects funded by government and NPOs.

“Tourism and hospitality is one such industry, which Zimele identified in 2019,” says Naidoo. “Since 2020, through our partnerships with companies in the sector, 4,567 young people from mining communities in Limpopo, Northern Cape and North West have been skilled and trained in the industry, and 54% of them have been placed in jobs, with only a 16% drop-off rate.”

Focus on entrepreneurship instead of being employed

There are numerous enterprise development (ED) programmes in the country with a particular focus on youth-owned enterprises, Naidoo adds. Some of them, like Zimele’s ED programme, help aspiring entrepreneurs through the entire process – from conceptualising the business idea, drawing up a business plan, teaching business skills and mentorship to grow the business, to enabling access to markets and support with loan funding to further expand the business. Sometimes the only thing you need is an idea and determination to see it through.

“Entrepreneurship is a viable route for young people who are unemployed to be able to participate meaningfully in the economy and, ultimately, also employ other young people as the business grows,” says Naidoo.

Being Flexible

Finally, young people should look at industries where opportunities exist, and adapt their initial plans. “Sometimes, passion may lead to studies in a particular field, but job and/or entrepreneurship opportunities exist in other fields that are also of interest and enable economic participation,” she says. “Young people must be flexible to take best advantage of the opportunities outside of their set career plans.”

She illustrates with the example of Maungo Cruise Mokgoje, 29, who found himself jobless during the pandemic when his internship as an assistant planner in merchandising was cut short. He tried his hand at farming for a year, in an effort to support himself, but he needed income in the shorter term. And so, he started The Cruise Hygiene and Cleaning Services, which specialises in cleaning of couches, carpets, mattresses, and even cars.

The business traded informally for two years, but with the help of Zimele and their partner, 3M, it was registered in January 2022, and Mokgoje was provided with a variety of support. Five years in, Cruise employs five permanent staff and even more temporary staff depending on the workload, and has a solid base and is providing services to both companies and individuals who are regular customers.

“There is more than one route to finding employment,” Naidoo concludes. “At Zimele we have seen that the youth who are willing to see opportunity and adapt accordingly, are the ones who find meaningful employment and start successful businesses. You can also start by identifying a demand for a service in your community and then identify small ways in which you can provide that service.

“When you consider the youth unemployment figures, or if you have been looking for work unsuccessfully for several years, we know it can be disheartening. But I would urge young people not to give up – the opportunities are out there, and we can turn things around.”