Thursday, March 4, 2021

Growing the economy 2021: Make workers skills relevant


After a year that rendered millions unemployed and pushed up poverty levels, it is critical to provide relevant education and equip unemployed work seekers with the critical skills the private sector needs. Ensuring companies can fill hundreds of thousands of open vacancies benefits citizens and the economy as well as reduces the reliance on social grants. However, it is vital that such a journey is as holistic as it is urgent, experts say.

“On International Day of Education, with a troublesome year behind us and not knowing what lies ahead, we need to re-look how we are fighting unemployment and poverty. These two persistent problems worsened last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly amongst the youth. These challenges may become more deep-seated as the current year progresses,” said Onyinye Nwaneri, CEO at Afrika Tikkun Services (ATS), an organisation specialising in recruitment, training, placement and corporate transformation.

When it comes to fighting unemployment, which currently stands at 30.8%, South Africa needs to change how it gets jobless people working. “Instead of tailoring our job market to job seekers, for instance, by creating mediocre jobs for low and unskilled workers that only allow them to survive, we must help the unemployed meet the private sector’s skills demand. Education and equipping them with relevant and in-demand skills helps them land better-paid jobs, allowing them to thrive instead of surviving,” she added.

Our unemployment figure may be high, but so is the number of vacancies companies can’t seem to fill. Last year November, the Department of Higher Education and Training released a list of 345 high-demand occupations. Besides directors, various managerial professionals, health and safety experts and Research and Development staff, the database features skilled tradespeople such as welders and electricians, accountants, sales representatives, and drivers.

Other in-demand jobs include engineers of all kinds, multimedia designers, IT workers, teachers, and healthcare workers. “There are opportunities for anyone, of any level, if one has the right skills.”

Equipping people with the abilities companies need benefits them and the private sector, and the overall economy and the government, Nwaneri noted. “The more people have work, the less pressure on the social security system.”

A strategy to make unemployed South Africans relevant in the workspace must consider their overall development, talents, and interests. “We can’t determine for people what they must learn and which skills they must obtain or in what sectors they should be working. Instead, we should identify their interests, strengths, and weaknesses and work with that. This is the cornerstone of any sustained and successful skills training project,” she said.

For this reason, Afrika Tikkun partnered with multinational technology company Microsoft in its Global Skills Initiative (GSI). This global programme intends to empower 25 million people worldwide with crucial digital skills so they can take part in the digital economy.

Equipping youth with the right in-demand skills is also a key element of Afrika Tikkun’s Cradle to Career 360 youth development approach, Nwaneri said. “This model focuses on the needs of young people across their different life stages, from preschool to post-matric, and works within the context of family, health, food security, as well as education and economic self-reliance.”

For this, Afrika Tikkun was recently recognised as the top NPO in South Africa in the 2020 Trialogue Business in Society Survey. “You won’t be able to eradicate poverty and fight unemployment if you don’t look at the broader context of the people affected. Everything is interlinked.”

Besides enhancing people’s chances on the job market, The Cradle to Career approach caters for those interested in setting up their own businesses, too. “Not everyone is destined to work for others,” Nwaneri noted, taking 24-year-old Josephine Morake from the Diepsloot township near Johannesburg as an example. Six years ago, she joined our skills development programme, focusing on IT.

“After that, she applied for a job at Afrika Tikkun as an office assistant. When we interviewed her, we felt she was more than an employee: she was a business leader. Josephine agreed, and so she enrolled in our entrepreneurship programme instead. Today, she owns a domestic worker recruitment agency, employing six full-time staff over and above the women she has found jobs for. Her IT skills have proven to be crucial in running her company in this digital day and age. Josephine has even received a sizable enterprise development grant, which she used to help owners of start-ups.”

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