• Bridging the gap

    Africa will need to focus on educating and equipping the youth with the relevant skills necessary for the workplace to ensure future economic growth.

    Bridging the gap

    According to the UN, young people are almost three times more likely to be unemployed than adults. Moreover, they are continuously exposed to lower-quality jobs, greater labour market disparities, and longer and more insecure school-to-work transitions. Education and training are thus key determinants of success for the youth.

    Indeed, skills and jobs for young people are a top priority in the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and are also mentioned in many of the sustainable development goals. In a statement issued to mark World Youth Skills Day on 15 July 2016, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: ‘There is no better investment than helping a young person to develop their abilities. Successful skills programmes link young people with opportunities to gain experience and jobs.

    ‘Empowering young people through skills development strengthens their capacity to help address the many challenges facing society, including poverty, injustice and violent conflict.’ Unfortunately, existing systems are falling short and essentially failing these youths as far as education and work preparedness is concerned.

    In Africa, government departments and private-sector companies are working to help educate and empower the country’s youths, and equip them will relevant skills necessary for the workplace, as well as future success. Partners for Possibility (PfP) – under the umbrella of Symphonia for South Africa – has come up with a clever way to help the country’s struggling education system by equipping school principals with better leadership techniques.

    Started in 2010, the project supports and develops school principals across South Africa by connecting them with business leaders in a co-action and co-learning partnership. This is because research has found that school leadership is a critical factor in turning around an education system in crisis. ‘The energy that is unleashed from these partnerships, which often also draw from the business leader’s network, is incredible,’ says Louise van Rhyn, founder of PfP. According to Van Rhyn, the programme has thus far impacted 399 200 learners and 180 000 families, as well as 499 school principals and an equal number of business leaders.

    In 2014, the project received the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation’s Reconciliation Award from Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, while more recently, in 2016, it was the only social enterprise on the African continent to be selected as a finalist in the global WISE Awards for innovations in basic education. ‘It was also selected by HR.com as one of their Top 10 International Leadership Development programmes, alongside companies such as IBM and FranklinCovey, the firm of the late Stephen Covey,’ says Van Rhyn.

    Tackling youth development at school level is one way to improve the situation, but what about youngsters who have left the education system and are trying to find work? Enter learnerships and work-readiness programmes. According to Gizelle McIntyre, director of the Institute of People Development, work readiness is ‘the ability of a new employee to hit the ground running in a company’. This not only refers to the skills the new employee garnered in his or her studies but also their ability to communicate effectively, handle change and conflict, problem solve independently, work well with others, adapt and be agile, self-manage, organise, and learn quickly, she says.

    Emotional intelligence is another consideration. McIntyre adds that the most obvious benefit of such programmes is a skilled and engaged employee. ‘Organisations that foster and develop these skills do so to grow the type of human resource that gives them, their industry and the individual an enormous advantage. At the same time, building on strengths and then acknowledging the skill provides the kind of engagement most organisations can only dream of.’

    Meriting Youth Development, together with Imsimbi Training, runs free work-readiness initiatives for unemployed youths. Theirs is a two-month programme that includes seven short Services Seta-accredited courses such as effective business communication, emotional intelligence, and call centre and telephone skills, to name a few.

    David Sadie, director of Imsimbi, says that since the launch of the programme in August 2013, 350 youths has been trained, with more than half of them having found jobs after completing the course.

    He believes the power of the programme is twofold. ‘The emotional intelligence course, which forms the first and largest part of the training, helps build confidence and motivation – tools that assist youths to not only secure but stay in their new jobs. We also spend a lot of time on English communication skills, which is a big problem for many of the learners.’

    Digital skills development has increasingly become the focus of many youth education initiatives

    One of Africa’s largest banking institutions, Barclays, has created a work-readiness programme called ReadytoWork, an initiative that provides learning material to help young people develop work, people, money and entrepreneurial skills. Depending on their individual needs, they can select their learning pathway and complete this online using computer, tablet or mobile platforms.

    The programme is available to all interested learners, regardless of origin, as it is an online portal where you simply login and register to begin. It is being rolled out in several countries, including Mauritius, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

    The Ghana-headquartered JA Africa – a member of JA Worldwide – operates in 14 countries, offering entrepreneurship, financial literacy and work-readiness programmes. The organisation has in excess of 800 different curricular in a network of more than 120 countries globally, all aimed at empowering youths.

    Similarly, PMI Africa – part of PMI Human Capital Development Solutions – operates in several African countries, including Angola, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Malawi, Namibia, Sierra Leone, Zambia and Zimbabwe, offering training and work-readiness modules for those who have no work experience.

    Multinational consumer goods company Unilever offers graduate/internship programmes to South Africans as well as foreign nationals, with all required to apply through the South African process. Foreign nationals are placed in the African countries where Unilever operates.

    To address the critical technical and engineering skills shortage in Africa, in 2011 electronics giant Samsung launched its Samsung Electronics Engineering Academy in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa as part of the company’s broader goal to develop electronics engineers. The academy provides hands-on, vocational skills training for Grade 10 to 12 students over a one-year programme that includes basic, intermediate and advanced engineering skills.

    Momentum is another organisation that offers learnership experience, with the company’s operations spread across West, Southern and East Africa. Learnerships cover a 12-month period, and successful candidates receive a monthly stipend for participating.

    In South Africa, Dis-Chem’s Wholesale and Retail Learnership programme, which started at the beginning of 2016, focuses on building a retail talent pool of future supervisors and retail managers in a bid to address scarce and critical skills within the retail sector. It comprises three levels and starts with a basic knowledge of retail, completing the course with learnership competencies. Youths who participate in the programme stand to benefit enormously from their participation – when a learner successfully completes a learnership and meets Dis-Chem’s requirements, they will be employed.

    Reports show that by 2022, as much as 77% of jobs will require basic digital skills. As such, many organisations and companies are focusing specifically on digital skills development. The City of Johannesburg, together with Microsoft South Africa, recently announced a partnership initiative, JoziMS1million, that will see 1 million youths receive Microsoft skills training over the next five years. The curriculum will cover five key topics, including cloud services, computer security and privacy, and digital lifestyles.

    Meanwhile, across the continent, Google, together with partner Livity Africa, is currently training young Africans (the goal is 1 million) in digital skills through two training programmes: Digify Bytes and Digify Pro. The programmes are already under way in Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa, and through them Google plans to upskill 400 000 Nigerians, 200 000 Kenyans, 300 000 South Africans, and a further 100 000 from the rest of the region.

    With so many institutions focusing on youth development, where are companies going wrong? ‘Companies are employing based only on a level or qualification for a start,’ says McIntyre. ‘They also just assume that because someone has successfully completed a qualification, they will be able to flourish in the real world.’ She notes that, in addition, very few organisations have a culture of learning, and graduate programmes focus only on the technical skills and standard operating procedures of the organisation.

    Asked what responsibility private-sector companies should bear as far as youth development is concerned, McIntyre says their role is to help build the skills and experience needed to create productive, innovative and adaptable expertise. ‘This role comes from necessity – if you need something badly enough, you make a plan.’ What about the youths themselves? ‘I believe it starts with the person who wants to work. It is, however, both the workplace and the educator’s responsibility to provide the avenues and opportunities.’

    Sadie agrees, though he believes responsibility lies with both government and the private sector. He says that government needs to increase the employee tax incentive and the private sector needs to commit to taking on a million youths over the next few years. ‘The more companies that get involved, the better.’

    By Toni Muir
    Images: Gallo/Getty Images