29 April 2020 #Lifewouldbeniceif … youth had a seat at the economic table

While there is an expressed desire to emerge from the COVID-19 crisis with fairer societies, it is clear that governments, corporations and individuals alike struggle with the complexities of grasping this tender moment to affect maximum sustainable change.

On 21 April, South Africa’s President, Cyril Ramaphosa, outlined an economic and social response based on accelerated structural reform and a radical economic transformation that ensures opportunities for our citizens, making particular mention of youth. It is encouraging that the President sees the inclusion of youth as vital at this juncture because, on the same day, twitter stated the concerns of many young South Africans:

#LifeWouldBeNiceIf I would get employed after this lockdown

#LifeWouldBeNiceIf people didn’t get jobs through connections and nepotism … And asking us for “job experience”

#LifeWouldBeNiceIf young people were given the opportunity to rule Africa

#LifeWouldBeNiceIf Everyone has their own things, I mean everything! No one if suffering and no one has to ask from others

#LifeWouldBeNiceIf the school education system is not broken and they teach us what will help us to create wealth

#LifeWouldBeNiceIf data was affordable

#LifeWouldBeNiceIf we teach each other how to make money without expecting anything

#LifeWouldBeNiceIf finding a job was easy

Although we applaud President Ramaphosa’s intention, there is much work to be done.

When the African Union’s Decade Plan of Action ended in 2018, the organization noted with dismay a general lack of participatory policy in the youth sector across Africa. At that time, the AU noted that about 65% of the total population of Africa was between the ages of 18 and 35 years. Furthermore, the organization declared that effective youth policies are at the centre of Africa’s 50-year development vision – the AU’s Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The AU also acknowledged that youth activism had gained collective agency, and young people could no longer be ignored in Africa’s governance and development. The AU concluded that inclusion in meaningful policies that affect youth employment, education, entrepreneurship, human rights, citizenship and politics must be affected urgently if Africa is to thrive economically and socially.

Why has Africa resisted giving youth a seat at the table? In 2019, youth aged 15–24 years were still the most vulnerable in the South African labour market as the unemployment rate among this age group was 55%. It is clear that something must change.

Here are four ways in which the World Economic Forum suggests businesses include youth:

  1. Make ‘young people’ part of your brand: “Businesses that find innovative new ways to tap into this demographic and their spirit of global citizenship will have a distinct advantage over those that ignore this opportunity”.
  2. ‘Do good’ in the communities in which you operate: “Invest in local solutions that help youth access not just education but skills-development programmes; by doing this, you can create shared value that benefits businesses and communities alike”.
  3. Strengthen the ‘school-to-work’ transition: “Seek out new opportunities in your operations to train young people in your communities – particularly disadvantaged youth – through hands-on mentorships and apprenticeships.
  4. Give young people in your businesses a voice in your company and community: “Bring them into decisions and let them shadow veteran employees. Above all, recognize their unique expertise – you will need it one day.”

While these four suggestions are undeniably valid, organizations report that it’s not as simple as it might seem to work with youth, as many young people lack soft skills to thrive and businesses deem the cost of engagement too high.

It would help if young people could be vetted for behaviours, attitude and learning capabilities, so that organizations can invest their resources in the most promising youth, regardless of school qualifications.

A study by Harambee with the University of Oxford, Duke University, the University of Stellenbosch and the World Bank showed that employers value communication abilities most, as well as grit and resilience. They also found that young people need information that can help them better navigate the job market, including how to look for jobs, how to use their networks and how to prepare for an interview, as well as several other small interventions that contributed to their employability.

Harambee suggests that during interviews, companies could ask youth about things they have done before, like volunteering or self-directed learning, get references from teachers or community leaders, and make a point of providing all young workers—even if they’ve only worked for the organization for a short period of time—with a reference for the next opportunity.

A company that seeks to employ youth but wants to be assured that candidates have basic soft skills can partner with gold-youth by accessing applicants from the pool of gold Grads (alumni of the gold peer education programme). These young leaders have completed at least three years of the programme, which develops many employability skills, such as communication, self-development, healthy relationships, leadership and work-readiness.

gold Youth Development Agency (gold-youth) is an organization that seeks to disrupt the negative outlook faced by our youth, striving to develop 10 million young African leaders with character and integrity to mobilize their generation with the tools and support to reach their full potential. Consumed by a vision of young people living lives of purpose and leading Africa into a flourishing future—despite obstacles such as poverty, apathy, inadequate education, unemployment, orphanhood, gender inequality, HIV and lack of adult role models—Susannah Farr established gold-youth in 2004. The organization is committed to finding innovative and scalable solutions for addressing the debilitating youth-education and unemployment crisis amongst the most vulnerable.

It is time for the South African economy to take up President Ramaphosa’s call to action and to include youth so that we might build a new economy “founded on fairness, empowerment, justice and equality”.

#Life Would be Nice If … our new economy really opened horizons and offered opportunities to all South Africa’s citizens, including our youth.

Written by: Renette Pickering