According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), in 2017 there were about 71 million unemployed young people aged 15 – 24 years, worldwide. In South Africa, unemployment is high amongst both adults and the youth but young people in particular are affected with one in three finding themselves on the periphery of the economy.
Statistics South Africa’s figures show our unemployment rate standing at 26.7% in the first quarter of 2018. This is a slight improvement from the 27.7% in 2017 and is a good sign but ideally we want this number to be as low as possible. By any standards however, our unemployment rate is disturbingly high and considering that more than half of the population is living in poverty, we know that most of our countrymen live in dire circumstances.
Last month was Workers’ Month in South Africa and if anything, it was a stark reminder of the unfortunate reality that those who should be part of the labour force, enjoying the most productive years of their lives aren’t and could only watch in despair as their peers celebrated the start to the month with a public holiday. We know that 38.2% of young people aged 15 – 34, who should be working are not and this is a steep speed hump on the country’s road to development.
While few and far between, solutions are needed and fast, if we are to turn our fortunes around and start seeing meaningful change. One thing that has always been abundantly clear is that government cannot carry the responsibility of creating jobs or building the economy alone. We need an all hands-on deck approach! We need everyone who can do something to contribute to job creation, regardless of how small and to do so and with great urgency.
There is no silver bullet to the persisting unemployment problem or the slow pace of our economic growth. There are various things being done but many aren’t done with the kind of vigour that can make a noticeable difference in a short space of time. Amongst others, small business development needs to be amplified from all angles. Private companies and public entities that have a big footprint in the country need to start supporting small businesses to and thereby increase their contribution to job creation.
In as far as small business development and supporting entrepreneurship are concerned, the Eskom Development Foundation, has been and continues to run various initiatives aimed at helping grow the economy. Eskom is more than just a power supplier and the work of its Foundation is centred on bringing about positive socio-economic change in the communities where the organisation operates.
Tasked with implementing the corporate social investment strategy of Eskom, the Foundation contributes to socio-economic development in different sectors including enterprise development, education, environment, health, welfare, and rural infrastructure development.
One of the initiatives of the Foundation is the annual Eskom Business Investment Competition (BIC), which aims to recognise and inspire small businesses that are making an impact in their communities in the fight against unemployment and poverty.
The BIC rewards outstanding work in entrepreneurship while encouraging small and medium enterprises to prosper as they spearhead the country’s economic growth. The competition is open to local, black-owned and registered enterprises and it has been, over the years, helping many of them take their operations to the next level.
As a conclusion to the BIC, every year the Foundation hosts the three-day Small Business Expo (SBE), which gives all the BIC finalists and other small enterprises a unique opportunity and platform to market and build awareness about their products/services while networking with potential investors and customers.
The Foundation also runs the Contractor Academy, an eight month course that equips emerging contractors with the requisite business management skills to grow sustainable businesses. Focusing mainly on previously disadvantaged male, black woman-owned and youth contractors, the academy has modules that cover financial, legislative, management, leadership, entrepreneurial and technical skills.
Using these three programmes strategically, the Eskom Development Foundation is helping small businesses to grow their operations, create jobs and add value to the economy. By providing support in meaningful ways we are helping these enterprises to stay the path and in turn create sustainable jobs.
We may not have many solutions to the unemployment crisis in South Africa but with each of us doing our bit, we can start to see a difference with more people being active participants in the economy rather than mere spectators.