Generation Y has come of age

Remo Chipatiso, the British Council's head of education, sports and society in South Africa. (Photo: Delwyn Verasamy)

Remo Chipatiso, the British Council's head of education, sports and society in South Africa. (Photo: Delwyn Verasamy)

The digital age has brought with it significant shifts in lives and lifestyles, not least in education and training patterns and the process of putting the skills in place for “Generation Y” or millenials, to equip them to meet employer requirements.

Moderator of the skills for employability summit, the British Council’s head of education, sports and society in South Africa, Remo Chipatiso, said: “Employers want employment-ready candidates. In today’s globalised world with the increase in the millenial workforce, we need to play to their strengths and meet organisational requirements. Millenials fill employer gaps.”

Chief executive of merSETA Dr Raymond Patel stressed the impact of technological innovation and digitisation on millenials, saying that if they are to take control, education and skills cannot be viewed in their current state.

“The world of work, studies and interaction will change dramatically,” stresses Patel. “Added complexity with South African society exists in the way we view government. For as long as we see government allocating revenue towards creating work, we will remain in a state where we will not innovate.

“We cannot continue relying on a wage or social grants. It is a short-term method of addressing poverty, yet 23 million people in South Africa still live below the breadline. Other governments do not give funding to companies to train people, but companies believe that if they don’t train the next generation they will lose their competitive edge.

“Governments cannot sustain the creation and development of jobs. The marketplace must be driven by the market, with government playing a lesser role. Government has to provide basic education but future development must come from business,” said Patel.

 “We need to address the historicity of a country where the majority of people lack the basic skills to move into millenial skills. The new challenge is whether our colleges are properly and suitably equipped to cater to the new requirements of society.

“Education should empower people with knowledge. It is vital to ensure that continuous formal and informal training takes place so that we have enough millenials to deal with new technologies.

“Globalisation is a reality and technology has broken physical, geographical and time barriers. The global campus connects learners and provides the platform for online learning. We can sit in South Africa and study at a university in the United Kingdom. Learning without borders is something to deal with and teaching cannot follow the same formula it has been.

“Having a BA is not the same as quick and rational decision-making and thinking. In 10 years, graduation will not exist. Learning will mean going to a university to study a component of what you need and the traditional form of education will become a thing of the past.

“Millenials also won’t stay in the same post for years, unlike Generation X and generations before them. There has to be innovation and entrepreneurship and anything we study, we have to understand the inherent value of. Most important of all, we cannot do this without getting back to basics and working with an ethical and engaged citizenry,” said Patel.  

Jacqueline Mosesi, deputy principal academic at the Sedibeng TVET College, believes millenials represent “one of history’s most dynamic generation of individuals”.

“These modern day dreamers have come of age and are expected to take charge of the future and contribute positively to the economy. Millenials bring to the table new ways of thinking — not far removed from Generation X, but building from the priceless knowledge of our geneneration.

“Millenials are increasingly seeking role models and mentorships, but [are] not necessarily looking to older generations for these, but amongst themselves.”

Mosesi says that increasing opportunities are presenting themselves to millenials, with different models and funding baskets, such as the National Skills Fund and National Student Financial Aid Scheme, which they should be taking advantage of.

“Adults in this cohort are reshaping education, institutions and the workplace with their digital fingertips. They have their own ways of thinking and doing things. They rely on friends and like working in teams, using conversations and peer reviews to make decisions.

“They are generally optimistic, more confident and assertive and mostly they have a sense of entitlement to every opportunity that arises.” Mosesi said tech-savvy millenials don’t like being shackled to tradition and location. “They don’t want past practices, but the new and the now. The internet and connectivity is a way of life and they are ready to pack and move onto something new. 

“They believe in learning but not sitting with pieces of paper. Other generations talk about degrees earned, but this cohort talk about what they need to learn to get [a] breakthrough in life. They believe in life and not a work-life balance.

“Millenials learn from someone else’s experience, but still need practical experience before being employed. Ultimately they are entrepreneurs and fixers and can contribute meaningful fiddling from their scientific fingers.”

Hans Kuipers, partner and managing director in the Johannesburg office of the Boston Consulting Group, urged millenials to acquire skills from employers, invest both in education and in generic skills in technology and entrepreneurship and build accumen and life skills.

“It is not a secret that South Africa has a talent problem — a work surplus with [a] skills mismatch. Project this forward to 2030 and looking at the 25 large world economies, India, China and Germany will have workforce deficits — and these economies will pinch our best people. On the other hand, the USA, Spain and South Africa will have a surplus.

“Clear opportunities exist, both to withhold our talents and skills and to leverage by setting up industries in South Africa that cater to services required elsewhere in the world, such as shared services and back office functions. Attract work to South Africa and in the meantime, upskill the surplus workforce we could potentially have. This will also establish a better society.

“Tapping into these opportunities requires that we invest in these services. We must remain cognisant of the risks of losing the right people, losing role models and mentors, [when it comes to] driving forward the economy,” he concluded.

Better skills to restart growth

Keynote speaker at the Mail & Guardian and British Council’s summit on skills for employability on September 17 2015, British High Commissioner Judith Macgregor said that in developed countries like the United Kingdom, people are recognising the need to provide better skills adapted to changing market dyamics, and bringing back vocational skills.

“There have been two million new apprenticeships in the UK over the last three years and people are recognising the need for mixed forms of learning,” explained Macgregor. 

The $10-billion makeover of east London has transformed this area, turning it into a new sector for high-tech industry. Macgregor said London is now bringing young people and employers together and that the connectivity and understanding has meant a huge number of people have “gravitated into the field and then moved forward”.

“Colleges and school teachers need to know what they are doing and understand what they are producing for millenials. It is a work in progress. We have established partnerships all around the UK and in parts of South Africa, leveraging from the department of education, Sita (State Information Technology Agency) and colleges in the UK and here.

“We are supporting scholarships and a huge number of joint fellowships between universities. There are tremendous opportunities millenials should be taking advantage of. We certainly need to communicate the urgency attached to this, as we are facing a digital world where we are restarting the growth we lost a decade ago. We need to teach young people advanced, sophisticated digital skills and we need the entrepreneurs to create jobs.” — Rebecca Haynes