As South Africa wraps up Youth Month in commemoration of the Soweto uprising 45 years ago (16 June), the reported official youth (15-34 years) unemployment rate has increased to 46,3% in the first quarter of 2021. Despite government efforts to curb youth unemployment, the situation remains dire.
As we continue to observe, companies that were better prepared for a global crisis, such as COVID-19, were able to respond quickly to change – given employees with broad skills that could adapt to new situations. Global research by IFS revealed that more than half of companies plan to increase spending on digital transformation due to the pandemic. The ability to execute on these plans will demand a focus on upskilling and reskilling. Speed and agility have proven to be critical for business resilience.
According to Mercer’ Global Talent Trends Survey the global average reskilling budget is $1200 — China budgets $2000 whereas South Africa budgets $800. In comparison, youth unemployment rate in China is estimated between 10% and 20%. For global executives investing in future learning and reskilling is top priority to deliver transformational change whereas local executives are focusing their people-centric efforts elsewhere, such as restructuring.
Job security concerns are at an all-time high and companies that can deliver skills at scale will outpace competitors, just like delivering on flexible working dominates today’s employee experience conversation. Yet staying ahead will require focusing on the long-term view: redefining the talent value proposition fit for today’s needs and tomorrow’s generations and upending what is meant by “being at work.”
These priorities are driven by a need to ensure that organisations are structured effectively and can sustainably and cost effectively weather the economic crisis. Initiatives that enhances the talent value proposition, as well as energise the employee experience and reinventing flexibility and fluid careers, will remain in the spotlight.
A strong focus on empathy and critical skills
Two in five South African companies say that managing inclusively and with empathy has become more critical for future resilience, with more than half of companies (56%) saying that identifying new skills needed for the post Covid world is one of the top priorities in accelerating skills development. Skills that help employees adapt to the current world are predictable high on the list (collaboration is number one, followed by self-management skills.) Furthermore, 41% of South African HR leaders versus 29% globally say inclusive and empathetic management has become more critical for future resilience. This is a skill that supports mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.
One in four companies in South Africa is moving towards Artificial Intelligence driven nudges that prompt employees to advance their health, wealth, and career prospects. To get the attention of young South Africans, companies need to access critical skills by identifying the skills required to position the organisation for the future and upskill talent. Additionally, they need to utilise Artificial Intelligence and machine-learning processes, develop capabilities to improve pay equity analytics and establish the link between skill clusters and job opportunities. Finally, listening to the employee voice and focus manager-employee career discussions on being future-ready and finding opportunities to build skills will be critical to get their attention and interest.
It is important to note that accelerating a brighter future for young South Africans involves corporate South Africa designing benefits that truly benefit the workforce. Accelerating ESG and sustainability initiatives, as well as improving learning and reskilling/ upskilling the workforce and prioritising HR transformation to reflect how we live digitally aligned with new ways of working will be crucial to thrive in the new shape of work.
Given the economic growth rate, SA youth remains an untapped pool of talent that can be developed with skills for the future and integrated into mainstream economy. The situation calls for urgent attention through coordinated effort between the public and private sectors.