/ 14 November 2023

Youth development group sparks debate: Is South Africa fighting a skills shortage or a jobs shortage?

Onyi Nwaneri, Deputy CEO of Afrika Tikkun

Afrika Tikkun and Microsoft unite South African businesses to revolutionise youth employability and close the skills gap

Some of the country’s largest corporations at a recent roundtable discussion co-hosted by youth development group, Afrika Tikkun (AT) and Microsoft have questioned whether South Africa’s unemployment challenges are truly about job availability, rather than a mismatch in skills demand and supply.

During the dialogue held under the theme “Skills Gap, Youth Employability and Employment,” industry leaders have uncovered a critical issue hindering progress in South Africa’s workforce development landscape: a lack of coordination and collaboration among employers and those who provide young people with skills. This lack of collaboration, they warn, is allowing the gap between skills demanded by industry and those provided to young people to widen.

While much of government policy and efforts by the skills and education sector focus on providing as many young people as possible with a wide range of skills and qualifications, employers are still struggling to fill vacancies in tech, finance and other growing sectors without hiring from outside South Africa, or struggling to retain the small pool of skilled individuals in these crucial industries.

Lack of cooperation and coordination among stakeholders 

The dialogue revealed a significant obstacle impeding the country’s workforce development environment. It was the conspicuous lack of cooperation and coordination among the various stakeholders who are accountable for providing the youth with necessary skills and employment.

Distinguished delegates from leading companies, along with various SMMEs and recruitment firms, shed light on the urgent imperative for a radical shift in perspective toward collaboration and skills-focused approaches.

The consensus among industry players is that harnessing the power of supply chain interactions and industry-wide collaboration is paramount in addressing the pressing skills gap challenges faced by the nation. They also committed to tackling employment challenges as a collective.

“Those who want to end the cycle of youth unemployment may need a change in attitude and perspective to get to the bottom of its skills gap challenges that continue to feed into rising unemployment,” said Onyi Nwaneri, Deputy CEO of Afrika Tikkun.

Skills shortage

The discussions held during the roundtable highlighted the necessity for employers to reassess their requirements, placing greater emphasis on the value of skills rather than solely relying on formal qualifications.

“As we see slight improvements in some aspects of youth unemployment in SA, this is a crucial opportunity for employers to rethink their approach to workforce development,” said Nwaneri.

“By embracing a mindset change and acknowledging the value of skills, employers can actively contribute to bridging the gap between available resources and the needs of industries affected by the skills shortage.”

A move towards purpose-driven skills development

Despite thousands of young people completing skills development and learnership programs, the rate at which these graduates are being absorbed into the workforce is severely lacking.

According to a recent study by two skills development groups The Collective X and Harambee, more than 28 000 digital and ICT jobs are outsourced to other countries in South Africa, which amounts to R8.5 billion in lost export revenue.

Additionally there is currently a demand for around 66 000 digital and ICT jobs forecasted for the next year, of which around 44 000 are entry-level jobs suitable for the youth. But does South Africa have the skilled youth to fill these posts?

Youth must embrace new technology and globalisation

Young people need to change their attitudes towards education and skills development by embracing the opportunities presented by new technology and globalisation. Employers likewise need to look for skills rather than formal qualifications in order to give opportunities to more capable and eager young minds to participate in the evolving economy, delegates said.

In an effort to foster employer collaboration and sustainable growth across industries, AT plans to facilitate further initiatives in the coming months. “We hope this will be the start of a collaborative movement comprising employers, educators, and organisations dedicated to addressing poverty, inequality, and employment challenges in South Africa. By leveraging the power of unity and collaboration, AT aims to create a thriving ecosystem that empowers young individuals and uplifts communities,” concludes Nwaneri.

Onyi Nwaneri is Deputy CEO of Afrika Tikkun

About the Afrika Tikkun Group

Tikkun, as Afrika Tikkun was formerly known, was founded in 1994 by the late Chief Rabbi Cyril Harris and philanthropist/businessman Dr Bertie Lubner. Initially, the focus of the organisation was on meeting the day-to-day needs of children. Renamed MaAfrika Tikkun and later Afrika Tikkun, the organisation evolved to provide a holistic development model in disadvantaged communities, with a focus on Early Childhood Development, Child and Youth Development, and Career Development, better known as the Cradle to Career 360° model. The Afrika Tikkun Group works to develop young people from underprivileged communities in South Africa from Cradle to Career.

For more information visit www.afrikatikkun.org