What’s Bothering SA’s Youth?

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As part of its Supply Chain Foresight Report on Skills & Unemployment in South Africa, Barloworld Logistics conducted a Youth Pulse survey to gain a deeper understanding of the challenges and concerns facing undergraduate and graduate students.

Among young South Africans aged between 15 and 24, a total of 37,5% or 3,2 million are neither employed nor enrolled in education or training. Young people, and women in particular, are the most vulnerable, resulting in a global youth unemployment rate that is almost three times higher than the rest of the global population.

“Today, the majority of our unemployed 18 to 25-year-olds are unskilled and increasingly angry at their perceived barriers to a better life,” says Shirley Duma, HR Director at Barloworld Logistics. “There is a disconnect between the jobs being offered, the skills that are being taught, and the hopes and expectations of our youth.”

Unsurprisingly, given the current economic and political volatility, the top two concerns troubling students are economic stability (80%) and job opportunities (50%). Following these, personal safety (32%) and welfare (23%) are elements that trouble the youth, and no doubt hamper their efforts to pursue higher learning and education.

Some respondents indicated other concerns, most notably financial worries – either immediate, in terms of paying for studies, or long term with regard to building a family and owning a home.

No pracs at tertiary institutions

“The primary concern, apart from the economy, is that there is an oversupply of graduates in the job market today, particularly among those outside of the legal, accountancy and medical professions,” notes Shirley. “Graduates are struggling to gain any type of foothold in the working world once they leave university, and many find that their skills and knowledge do not match up with what employers are requiring.”

Critically, students appear to be lacking the opportunity to gain practical and hands on training either before or upon entering the job market.

Although most students recognise this as a disadvantage and express frustration at their inability to gain experience, the majority of university courses seem to ignore this critical part of the learning process.

Relevant expertise

In South Africa, we should be asking whether today’s school leavers and graduates are emerging from their education and studies with the smart capabilities and reputable skill sets that are immediately useful to local and global employers.

We suspect that instead of there being a shortage of jobs (which is the often cited reason for skyrocketing unemployment), there is more likely a chronic shortage of the actual skills that are needed to drive the modern economy forward, both in South Africa and abroad.

Indeed, gaps have emerged between education and training and the ever growing needs of a globalised, fast changing technical world of work. This has resulted in a new generation of required skills and ever changing designations, but it has also created a worldwide increase in unemployment, which negatively impacts economic growth.

The World Economic Forum has identified three major pressure points in the chain of education:

  • Skills and human capital;
  • Job growth and technological change;
  • Skills gap and skills churn.

“In many countries there has been a reported drop in unemployment numbers since the global financial crisis, but there is some evidence that this is not so much due to job growth, but because the long-term unemployed are giving up on trying to find a job,” notes Keith Breene, Senior Writer, Formative Content, WEF.

Keith points out that the types of skills that employers need are changing all the time. He believes that employees are under pressure to continually learn and adapt to evolving and emerging industries.

Business leaders and managers are unable to find the right candidates for many positions across industrial and commercial ventures, a problem that will continue to increase, as the need for specialisation and current work-related skills increases.

The WEF notes that close to 90% of the required job creation must take place in the developing world, primarily in Africa and Asia, as this is where the projected needs will be most dramatic.

Entering the digital economy

Although 29% of the African population can access online, the global average is 46%, Meir Brand, MD of Google Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) has stated that, “Traditional education is often badly equipped to develop dynamic skills in students.

“Most schools and universities are teaching a 20th century education to young people who will need cutting edge 21st century skills. This is an issue that calls for long-term commitment to reform from successive generations of political leaders.”

A recent US survey noted that 78% of job opportunities on offer “call for some fluency with technology”. The survey also noted the increasing need for computer literacy, especially Microsoft’s Excel and Word; SAP SE or Oracle, skills that are critical for office and administrative positions, retail supervisor and store managers, among others.

These are skills that we take for granted, daily.

The South African perspective

Basic education within South Africa is producing poor results. Therefore, it is critical that key stakeholders within the education and formal sector, develop a much needed, successful way forward.

While many young Africans are on a path to success in this virtually-driven environment, the majority still lack the digital skills required to truly harness the Internet’s massive potential.

As Meir Brand notes, most educational institutions in Africa are ‘ill-equipped to provide young people with the key skills they need to take advantage of the fast-developing African digital economy’. More worryingly, teachers and educators themselves have little to no digital skills or expertise. This is something that both the education and private sector needs to urgently address through targeted and measured interventions.

Oversupply or undersupply?

Without doubt, if there was a stronger link between national and industry specific economic planning, and education and training, it would ensure enough of the correctly qualified or skilled people would be ready to fill the employable ranks.

Moreover, we could sustain economic growth by firstly ensuring fulfilment of national and industry strategies, and by bridging the current mismatch of resources and requirements.

While skills are admittedly not a panacea for unemployment as a whole, the right skills and expertise will surely make a profound impact on soaring joblessness.

The Manpower South Africa’s annual Talent Shortage Survey, revealed a significant increase of 23% in the difficulty experienced by employers to fill vacancies. In 2014, 8% were recorded, where 2015 revealed a staggering 31%.

Vacancies

When employers were asked why they couldn’t fill jobs, the survey found 52% of them cited environmental or market factors, 47% mentioned a lack of technical competencies or hard skills and 46% cited a lack of available applicants or no applicants at all for the position.

Notably, 30% of local employers cited the lack of industry-specific qualifications or certifications in terms of skilled trades as a challenge, while 26% mentioned a lack of candidate experience.

In addition, 19% of employers identified organisational factors as a hurdle, while 15% cited industry-specific qualifications and certifications in terms of professionals as a challenge.

How important is the gap between formal education and employability? Increasingly, being ‘well’ educated is no longer the primary criteria and employers are less inclined to be wooed by degrees and qualifications. Instead, employers are now placing greater emphasis on an individual’s ability to deliver and perform. Wages and salaries are calculated according to the value derived from the work delivered.

Those selected for corporate training are invariably determined by a combination of factors which include sufficient knowledge or aptitude to justify an investment in their continued education and skills development.

Undeniably, given the ever increasing percentage of unemployment, neither commerce nor industry can bear the cost and responsibility of bridging the gap between education, training, apprenticeships, internships and mentoring. A strong, active approach needs to be implemented now, to break the back of current levels of unemployment.

The ‘job’ mentality

Does high unemployment create a negative ‘job’ mentality?

A ‘work mentality’ is associated with secure employment that creates value, adds rewards to performance and establishes an opportunity for sustained income and a career assisted by the ability to gain greater skills.

Whereas a ‘job’ is merely a means to earn an income, with the least effort and minimal interest.

This work ethic is often symptomatic within developing nations, influenced and perpetuated by the lack of job opportunities available to unskilled individuals. However, in some instances when ‘jobs’ are secured, the opportunity for self improvement and growth is not seen or taken.

This possibly relates to an apparent lack of motive or incentive to work better on a ‘job’ or for an individual to seek continual improvement and thus secure advancement and a more rewarding future.

Does this then lead to a need for employers to break this mould by inspiring and motivating employees?

While this job mentality relates primarily to the currently less educated and lower levels of skilled employment, it can also manifest itself in higher levels of employment where individuals do not see the benefit of a different approach, combined with a lack of commitment to a course of personal development and self-motivation.

To break this apparent limitation to employability, society needs to maintain and exhibit standards supported by a growing economy in which education, training and skills are critical.

As witnessed in countries such as Singapore, to have a strong vision of an educated and prosperous society rewarded by their skills and ability requires committed leadership with a national vision.

Education and career selection

Interestingly, our research involving the new entrants to the employment market hints that students select degrees or areas of study with poorly formed or vague ideas of where their studies will lead them and which roles they ultimately see themselves fulfilling.

Moreover, they have a shallow understanding, at best, of what certain roles really require.

Take, for example, a degree in Supply Chain Management and/or Logistics. Students enter this field without understanding that there are many different activities performed within these industry sectors. Supply Chain “Management” and Logistics “Management” differ greatly from performing or providing logistical services that require very specific tactical and operational expertise.

Ambitions

Ambitions to be involved in the managerial and strategic aspects of this industry can only be achieved over time and with experience, whereas the many sectors of business activity in logistical services is vast and fairly accessible for newbies.

Little appears to be known of the diverse business activities they can or should pursue, and students also appear to have scant knowledge of the players with whom they intend to seek employment.

Arguably, if there was a better understanding of the many logistical activities performed in any supply chain, students would elect for more targeted areas of study and obtain some practical experience and a more focused qualification – thus enhancing their employability.

Fit for purpose

In terms of selection, 76% of respondents in our research indicated that they had entered their specific field of study because it suits their abilities and interests.

The second and third highest reasons were the likelihood of finding a job (9%), and the availability of entrance into the relevant course (5%).

It thus appears that students are beginning their studies – often at great expense – without a true understanding of the real world of work and the skills and expertise that will allow them to reach the positions of higher management and authority that most aspire to.

Indeed, having interviewed students currently enrolled in courses as varied as marketing, finance and engineering, many are expecting to follow a linear path from study, to first job, to middle management and ultimately executive leadership.

False perceptions

In reality, this seldom happens without detailed knowledge, experience and understanding of the roles and activities performed by the chosen employers.

Too often, students select their higher education based on their perception of their future career, where in fact, very little is truly known about the skill, experience and competencies required.

In addition, many students don’t fully grasp or understand what suits their abilities and personality. Basing a career choice solely on intellectual capability does not automatically lead to professional success and fulfilment.

Best suited

Here, an opportunity exists for potential employers to play a role in educating school leavers, university or college students, of the realities of the work function and personal qualities required for employability.

It is also necessary for students to explore and ‘discover’ in order to obtain necessary information about their preferred vocation. Textbooks deliver the theory but so much more goes into being a great, driven and irreplaceable employee.

At high school level, it is perhaps up to career counsellors to align personalities and latent attributes of the school leavers and students to guide them more effectively towards the employment best suited to the individual’s characteristics.

The entrepreneurial dream

Given the endless stream of sensational media stories that detail the rise of unicorns and entrepreneurs to positions of power and unfathomable wealth, it is unsurprising that most students are set on becoming entrepreneurs.

For many, the word ‘entrepreneur’ conjures images of wealth and success, to others it means being self-sufficient as an individual establishing a successful career within an existing business and pursuing intraprenurial aspirations.

Today’s view is of entitlement, contribution and benefit from an inclusive society.

Staggeringly, over 75% of our foresight report respondents indicated that they have considered opening their own business. This result ties into the study conducted by advisory firm Ernst and Young in 2015, which found a strong push towards entrepreneurial ventures and away from formal employment in Africa.

Respondents in our survey indicate that the main reasons for wanting to start their own businesses was that they believe they have an idea to improve a product/service (46%) and that they have the right skills to start a business (45%).

Notably, 31% of respondents who stated they would like to start a business indicated that they have received entrepreneurial training.

However, only 18% said it was part of their coursework at university, while 58% have had no formal training, but would like to receive training in the future.

Mentors

The question we must ask of such positive responses is whether the training and education has truly passed on the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed as an entrepreneur.

Sadly, through lack of appropriate skills, guidance and support, most start-up businesses never achieve the desired future state.

Another key finding was that almost 70% of those who indicated that they have not thought about starting their own business would still like to receive entrepreneurial training.

As food for thought, an EY Global study found that the preferred method of learning for youth wanting to start their own businesses is ‘to seek the counsel of experienced entrepreneurs to act as mentors’.

Nurturing enterprising minds

While it is certainly true that not every individual is cut out to be an entrepreneur, we are perhaps running the risk of wasting brilliant minds by not providing the training and guidance required to nurture true entrepreneurs.

A key opportunity exists to establish an incubator or programme, that specifically teaches the pertinent skills required by ambitious entrepreneurs, to establish their business and move their start-up to a sustainable state.

Such a programme should draw strongly on partnerships with leading companies and business personalities, with mentorship, practical training and networking all included as key components.

Softer skills

Our budding entrepreneurs also need to be taught the softer skills, around how to communicate, negotiate, write, handle media and service excellence.

Through the acquisition of these softer skills, ambitious entrepreneurs will begin to understand that being an entrepreneur is not a solitary journey. It requires strong people skills, the ability to recognise and work with people of a high calibre, from diverse backgrounds.

To recap

Government needs to reassess its education programme to align itself to the commercial world of employment. The national curriculum should include education and exposure to the reality of employment and the skills necessary – particularly in the area of the digital economy. Government schooling should also integrate itself closer to the needs of commerce and industry.

Career guidance professionals need to successfully guide school leavers and existing students to effectively follow an employment and career path best suited to each individual’s characteristics.

Additionally, educationalists should implement formal assessments and tests at high school level around the suitability of skills and characteristics to career paths, with structured guidance.

All school leavers should similarly have practical application and hands-on learning by completing specific work assignments, either during terms or holiday vocational programmes.

This training element needs to be structured and carefully managed at all levels, with measurement and metrics in place.

It is recommended that tertiary diplomas and degrees include practical work exposure, experience and projects for all students as an integral part of any curriculum, prior to a qualification being granted. This includes internships, apprenticeships, study and training programmes, and work specific projects.

Business needs to engage more closely and directly with schools, universities, and other educators. This engagement needs to take place at the earliest stage possible in order to provide guidance in terms of actual jobs available in fields and clarify expectations from both the employer’s and potential employee’s perspective.

There is an urgent need to establish entrepreneurial incubator and formal education and training programmes to train candidates and empower them with the business skills and practices needed to become successful entrepreneurs.

The programmes should nurture young business people and provide the technical, commercial and practical skills necessary to build and run small enterprises.

The youth need to become better informed about global and local economics and the real world of employment, commerce and industry.

Small bridges

In short, there needs to be a key shift in the way we think about work: instead of looking for jobs, the goal should always be to build a career through which one can derive meaning, learning and satisfaction at every level.

For some, this will mean plunging into new business ventures, while for others it will mean specialising and joining established companies, to take advantage of intraprenurial opportunities.

We need to build many small bridges along the way, while keeping the vision of an inspired, skilled and productive workforce top of mind.

Barloworld Logistics, www.barloworld-logistics.com

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