Youth Day: Unlock the power of age through holistic strategies


The country’s top HR leaders speak frankly about inculcating inclusive workspaces for the youth.

Organisations need to implement comprehensive strategies to unleash the full potential of the country’s young workforce.

These are the sentiments of Palesa Ntoagae, recently appointed human capital executive for Old Mutual Insure who, as the country celebrates Youth Day, says all is not lost as there is still a chance to contain the rising youth unemployment crisis.

“We’re facing a crisis as a continent but when you consider that by 2030, we will have the world’s youngest population. It gives us the perfect training ground to develop the workforce of the future with globally relevant skills. What comes to mind is that we can only contain this situation by uniting as industries and implementing three key strategies: formalising the big economy as an industry, rallying up to develop critical skills [nationally] by leveraging our unique organisational strengths and inculcating inclusive workspaces that encourage authenticity and self-expression.”

Talking to her first point she explains that organisations seem to not have explored the concept of fractionalising work so people can access big opportunities in companies belonging to the same industry or based on seasonality. “The sports industry does this very well, but as corporations, we haven’t fully embraced or imagined what this could look like for us.”

Critical skills development

Sinqobile Khuluse, head of human resources at Sandock Austral Shipyards commented that young people need to be equipped with skills that will empower them and accelerate their integration and growth in the workplace.

“Accessibility of quality education and entry-level youth programmes are some of the strong drivers of growth for the youth, injection of funding linked to internships, graduate and apprenticeship programs are some of the strategic initiatives that need to be supported, mentorship programmes that act as a guide for young people will enable success. The availability of more entry-level programmes and careful crafting of mentorship plans to drive skills and knowledge transfer are some of the interventions that can be implored to support the upward trajectory of young people in the workplace.”

Palesa adds that big companies also need to embrace the idea that some companies may be the training ground for school leavers to feed or hand over trained youth to a competitor who may offer richer career experiences. “In this way, the circle of development and career progression continues. At this point, we all pick and dangle the biggest carrot to recruit key talent but more can be done to create some higher order that allows the youth to gain development experiences.”

“Partnering with the private sector needs to remain a key focus area, the government will not be able to drive employment and opportunities for the youth on their own, youth programmes need to be inclusive of the private sector and entrepreneur-run organisations. Programmes that are being driven through the various SETAs need to become enablers, the intense administrative processes need to be curtailed and ought to facilitate a more seamless process to navigate and participate as host companies for youth programmes,” Sinqobile adds.

She does admit that as much as some frustrations exist, both business and government need to work together for a better South Africa.

“Schools need to align the youth with future skills that are and will become a demand for the modern workplace. Technological advancements, such as automation and artificial intelligence, present both opportunities and challenges for youth employment, skill mismatches persist in South Africa, particularly in basic literacy skills, technical and vocational skills, and key soft skills such as emotional intelligence, communication and self-autonomy.”

Zizile Lushaba, human capital & skills development executive at SEIFSA agrees adding that emphasis on practical training makes newly qualified tradespeople infinitely more employable. “Young people need to be equipped with skills that will empower them and accelerate their integration and growth in the workplace. For example, choosing a trade such as being an artisan increases young people's chances of being employed as there is a huge demand for more artisans in all sectors of the economy and this is not only true of the local market.”

Inculcating inclusive workspaces

Sinqobile says it is also important to teach young people about having courage in the face of adversity, “moving from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm, soft skills such as agility and flexibility and becoming more resilient as we journey through this VUCA world”.

She adds that organisations and leaders need to give young people the opportunity to see beyond their current social challenges and lack of privilege. “Technology will allow them to pursue their dreams and open up their minds to the vast global opportunities that the world has to offer them, that their dreams are valid.”

Palesa concludes that inclusive workspaces encourage authenticity and self-expression and in so doing create a positive workforce. “The best ideas come from what seems like a crazy idea and there’s no better way to drive innovation than to ensure your organisation is a melting pot of a good mix between experience and experimenters who are comfortable to show up as their authentic selves and challenge where required.”

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