Addressing the jobs/skills imbalance

Read time 3min 10sec

South Africa is faced with a strange situation - there is a shortage of skills in the market, and yet unemployment levels, especially among young people, are high. Many of those unemployed people hold some qualifications on paper.

The reason for this is that people lack skills. Contrary to what many may believe, skills are not defined as educational qualifications alone - they are a combination of formal qualifications and on-the-job experience. Once a graduate has both education and experience, he or she becomes employable, and there is an 80% likelihood he or she will be employed for life.

The more people become skilled and employed, the more consumers are created, the greater the benefits to the economy as a whole.

At EOH, we believe all businesses should take responsibility for equipping our youth with the skills they need to become employable. With five million unemployed people in the country - and 75% of them youth - the government alone cannot shoulder the burden of creating employment.

Businesses are obliged to step in to address the situation. Doing so is surprisingly simple and is not a costly exercise. It is simply a matter of giving young people work experience.

Much like the tradition whereby artisans undergo apprenticeships as part of their training, the next generation of employees can be effectively equipped with the necessary hands-on experience if they work for a period alongside experienced mentors.

In years past, this is exactly how the economy developed - with tradesman passing on their knowledge and guidance to young apprentices, so enabling them to develop the skills they needed to become productive members of the workforce.

The same principle can be applied in any industry today. Not only is it a simple and practical solution to skills shortages and unemployment, but it is also supported by organs of the state through tax benefits and job creation and skills development incentives, making any such exercise virtually cost-free to business.

Business in SA cannot think in the same way as its counterparts in more developed countries, where the responsibility is primarily to the shareholders. Here, business is obliged to play a greater role in the wellbeing of society and the growth of the economy.

EOH is so committed to this belief that, last year, the company took on over 600 learners and graduate interns, absorbed them into its workforce, and set about imparting work skills to them. The exercise has been hugely successful and rewarding, and is now being expanded. Our partners, too, are looking to roll out similar programmes in their own enterprises, and we are issuing an open challenge to all South African businesses to emulate the project.

During the first year of the EOH job creation initiative, learners, interns and our staff were enriched by the experience. The young employees were absorbed well into the company and became productive members of the workforce within a very short space of time.

Theoretically, if every business in SA were to do the same, it would mean the employment of hundreds of thousands of young South Africans. The benefits would be immense - for the youth, for society, and ultimately, for the very businesses that invested time and effort in passing on the skills. After all, it is easier to run a business in a successful society.

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