Business can help solve the youth unemployment crisis and position itself for growth.
Image supplied by Bridgestone South Africa
This Youth Month, we once again confront the fact that, as a country, we remain motivated to push back our frightening youth unemployment figures. In the first quarter of 2023, we learned that 62.1% of job-seekers in the 15-24-year age cohort are unemployed, pretty much double the overall unemployment rate. The 25-34 age group is 40.7% unemployed.
Nobody doubts that this counts amongst the top and long-term priorities in our country’s socio-economic agenda.
A less-frequently cited crisis is the skills shortage that business faces, in a whole range of sectors such as ICT, health, marketing, media and marketing, business and management, and engineering.
At Bridgestone, we certainly can attest to the fact that we are reliant on a pipeline of talented young people with skills for an industry that is developing fast. At a technical level, we need people who can help us transform the way we manufacture tyres and provide mobility solutions in line with emerging technologies and greater emphasis on sustainability; equally important, we need marketing, sales, finance, HR and business specialists who can help us make the business even more efficient and responsive to our customers.
Looking at the big picture, it’s clear that we need to bring these two parts of the equation together in order to realise the benefits that a large youth population should represent. We at Bridgestone see it as a clear duty to play our role as a good corporate citizen, which is why we are investing so heavily in providing a pathway for the youth to enter business and also gain skills that can help them stand on their own.
Getting this right is obviously not going to be easy, and will require multiple things to happen, not least a renewed effort to implement growth-friendly economic policies - the 0.1% growth currently being forecast is proof that more needs to be done.
Another key area that needs attention is the partnership between business and the educational system, which needs to be strengthened to ensure that it produces young people with the right skills and attitude to make them viable in business.
The importance of work experience
A third is the question of job experience. It’s a Catch-22: first-time job applicants can’t get the job because they don’t have work experience, but to get the work experience they need a job.
In this context, the Yes4Youth programme of which we are a part, deserves a thumbs up. Yes4Youth aims to connect youth to internship opportunities at scale. The idea is that those who the host company cannot ultimately employ will find it easier to find employment elsewhere. As many commentators have pointed out, work experience demonstrates that an individual has the right attitude and has the potential to be trained.
UK figures show that work experience is a significant factor in hiring decisions for 74% of employers. McKinsey argues that two-thirds of an individual’s wealth is tied up in his or her human capital, almost half of which is affected by work experience.
At Bridgestone, we have been working with Yes4Youth for several years with great success. It’s a concrete expression of our commitment to building a sustainable society and providing opportunities that our youth currently lack. Of the 151 young people who have come through the programme, we have been able to employ 41, while the remainder have gained invaluable work experience that makes them more employable.
Another great benefit we have noticed is that we are building a more diverse workforce, including the recent absorption of two women in our manufacturing facility. One of them, Precious Baloyi, completed a course in Production Technology at NQF Level 2 and has now qualified as an RTB operator, responsible for the supply of production components. Stories like this are significant in a sector still dominated by men.
In the business sphere, one of our Yes4Youth interns, Siphosethu Ngomane, was recently employed permanently as an export sales administrator. A graduate of Monash with a Bachelor’s in International Relations, she credits the mentoring of her manager, who gave her the opportunity to take responsibility early on, for her success.
We see this programme as strategic for our business because it creates a pipeline of talented young people with skills we will need to keep the company competitive into the future.
It’s true that to solve the crisis of youth unemployment we need government to take the lead, but there is much that we as individual businesses can do now. By giving as many young graduates as possible some solid work experience, we are adding to their employability. Even more importantly, we are setting our companies up for success.
By Botaki Hlalele, Learning & Development Leader, Bridgestone