Are we being the leaders that our youth deserve?

South Africa is facing a number of critical challenges. Two of the most worrying are a faltering economy and a crisis in leadership which is leaving many of our future business leaders either waiting on the sidelines or, even more tragically, leaving the country.

Numbers don’t lie and, according to Statistics South Africa, we not only recorded the highest unemployment rate of 34.9% during Q4 in 2021 but we have a heartbreaking 65.5% youth unemployment rate.

South Africa’s public and private sectors are facing a worrying skills shortage. Yet, more and more people are graduating from South African universities. That just doesn’t add up.

With the high rate of unemployment in the country, the number of skilled young people who are going overseas to seek work opportunities is growing rapidly. While the youth that remain behind face not only poverty and joblessness, but have little chance to gain hands-on experience or be mentored by people who are in the field — people that have burnt their fingers learning the ropes.

So, who is then left to advance the objectives of our country and our economy?

If you look a little deeper, you’ll realise that, as a country, we are not utilising the human resources that are out there, tried and tested, to transform the educated graduates of today into the leaders of tomorrow. There are many highly qualified professionals who are observers rather than participants in this economy.

Recent years of corruption allegations and findings from the reports of commissions of inquiry have thrown an even bigger spotlight on the importance of integrity and ethics in business and society in general. Of course, some allegations of corruption were unfounded and people were exonerated through these processes. 

However, it is unfortunate that, regardless of no evidence having been found in certain instances, highly talented people are now out in the cold, unable to contribute to an economy that’s in desperate need of all the skills it can harness.

We all need to stand up and say that it is time that our country recognises the pool of talent that is lying out there unutilised.

At Change EQ, on a daily basis, we come across business enterprises that are struggling financially and underperforming operationally and were underperforming even before Covid-19 came about. On closer look, we’ve discovered issues like poor business management and sometimes instances of fraud and corruption, misappropriation of funds by management or self-enrichment. 

When a business underperforms, the losers are the investors that have put their hard-earned cash into the business, as well as the employees.

If the companies of tomorrow are going to succeed and the economy of the future is to recover, then we need to invest in the development of our management teams. We must make sure that we have strong leaders leading enterprises and boards of directors grounded in good corporate governance in place.

The legacy that we can leave behind for the business leaders of tomorrow is to learn from the mistakes of the past and the present and make sure that there are always mentors in place who can help them be the leaders that our country desperately needs.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.

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Dudu Hlatshwayo
Dudu Hlatshwayo is the founder and chief executive of Change EQ, specialists in work-out and turnaround, strategy, business process-re-engineering, organisational design and change management

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