Digitally-enabled positions offer hope for jobs and career growth among SA’s youth

By Lizelle Strydom, Managing Director at CareerBox

The rapidly growing digital economy provides hope for a career for South Africa's youth, but partnerships between NPOs and the private sector are needed to give them a 'hand up'.

The growth in digitally-enabled jobs has the potential to help South Africa address its huge youth unemployment challenge, even as many among the latest batch of matriculants look to enter the workforce. There however remains a gap in skills between school leavers and the requirements of a professional workplace culture, and partnerships between NPOs and the private and public sectors can help bridge the gap.

Last year, nearly 900 000 youth wrote their matric exams, with just over 76% – around 683 000 – passing; this is just the first hurdle to formal employment, and many youth from around South Africa’s disadvantaged communities are unable to further their education for a variety of reasons – with lack of access to funds being high on the list. Their cause is not helped by unemployment data from Stats SA, which shows that the country’s youth are disproportionately affected, with over 66% currently being unemployed and those without tertiary qualifications hardest hit.

While these figures might portray a bleak future for many of these youth, there has been a rise in digitally-enabled entry-level jobs in the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) sector, also known as Global Business Services (GBS). This industry has been one of the few in the local economy to grow over the past few years, and offer many opportunities for entry-level workers.

It looks to be set for further growth, with the South African government introducing its GBS Masterplan for the sector. Companies in the sector are further being driven towards investment in training youth by financial incentives from the government, and the growing prevalence of impact sourcing. This is a business practice where organisations look to previously disadvantaged communities to source and train talent to join their workforce.

A challenge however is that many school leavers from disadvantaged communities often lack the skills needed to take advantage of these opportunities, with the most basic among them being computer literacy – something that is critical in today's digital economy. High youth unemployment should not be seen as only a government problem, but one that affects us all, and partnerships between skills-focused NPOs and the private sector can help these youth gain an opportunity at a career in a digital world by bridging the gap from unemployed youngster, to the world of work, through demand-led training.

Talented youth need to be identified and placed in programmes that equip them with literacy, numeracy, communication and computer skills that they need for their specific role within the sourcing organisation. In the case of CareerBox, which partners with schools, community organisations and radio stations to identify talent, personalised in-person programmes extend to areas such as critical thinking and problem solving. Candidates are also taught budgeting skills to help them better manage their personal finances.

Overall, this results in candidates who are skilled for purpose, highly motivated and are less likely to leave. This helps prepare them for not just a job, but potential for career growth and advancement within a sector where growing adoption of digital technology is seeing the introduction of multiple job roles that didn’t exist not too long ago. Here, it is up to them to grasp the opportunity, put their training into practice and perform in the workplace.

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