Africa has the youngest population in the world with around 70% of the people living in sub-Saharan Africa being under the age of 30. For the continent, this reality holds amazing potential because young people bring fresh perspectives and new ways of thinking to the table; they are typically eager to learn; they are keen to gain valuable experience and they are open to gathering the skills they need to improve their lives and the lives of those around them. However, this growth can only be realised if future generations are empowered and assisted to realise their true potential.
Every year, Youth Month presents us with an opportunity to reflect on the incredible progress our country has made, while also acknowledging that there is still so much work to be done to ensure that we create a generation that is ready to take South Africa to new levels of economic growth.
Unemployment: A challenge for today’s youth
While the South African government has institutionalised youth development as a precondition for societal advancement, our young people face innumerable challenges, unemployment being one of the greatest of these. South Africa’s national unemployment rate was 35.3% in the fourth quarter of 2021, according to Stats SA’s latest employment data. This is the highest it has been in recent times. But a closer look at the numbers reveals that youth (aged 15 to 24 years) unemployment is almost double this, standing at 66.5%. Forging an alliance among businesses, educators, governments and society is key to fighting high unemployment among the youth and building the skills needed to fill entry-level jobs in fast-growing sectors, like tech.
Impact of education on youth employability
Education remains key to these young people’s prospects and is recognised as a key tool in human capital development. The more educated people are, the more likely their chances for employment and jobs with good working conditions. The transformative and disruptive potential of digital technologies is clear and must be utilised to take advantage of opportunities while mitigating the challenges.
Enabling a digital future for future generations
Many of South Africa’s young people face challenges connecting to our digital world. This demands that government and the private sector work together to improve access and play an active role in youth skills development. Partnerships like these aim to bridge the skills gap and provide learning and training opportunities to prepare young South Africans for the job market; enabling them to thrive and succeed in their dream careers. They also address worrying national skills shortages. When one considers that businesses of all sizes and across all industries are struggling to fill various digital technology roles – roles that are critical for future growth – developing ICT skills among our young people makes good business sense.
As South Africa’s leading digital techco, we believe it is our job to develop initiatives that leverage our reach and our technology stack to prepare our youth for the future. We are now actively working to do so through various youth development and training programmes. In April last year, Vodacom witnessed the results of our efforts when 146 youth, including 89 women, graduated with certified ICT certificates from our Youth Academy programme.
These graduates spent 12 demanding months training through the Vodacom Youth Academy, the sole purpose of which is to equip unemployed youth from disadvantaged backgrounds with critical ICT skills. The programme runs in partnership with various players within the ICT space and aims to develop ICT skills among young people who would not have the opportunity to acquire these skills. Giving youth a fighting chance to secure a better life for themselves in this tough economy, we are not only training young people to take up ICT-related professions, but also empowering them with the skills they need to start their own businesses and employ others. Given this broad impact, Vodacom has committed to training over 3 200 young people through the Youth Academy by 2025.
Similarly, Vodacom has invested well over R20 million in the Youth Development Programme which offers a one-year internship to young people who want to learn digital skills that will improve their future employment opportunities. We also continue to offer bursaries for some of the country’s top matriculants in the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields. This initiative has benefited 2 332 students, and our role extends beyond funding.
We acknowledge the value of giving our time to young people to help them learn the ropes once they enter the world of work. Our Youth Council initiative provides young Vodacom employees with the chance to job shadow Vodacom Group Exco members, including the CEO, so that they are exposed to the realities of business and can witness decision-making at the highest levels of the organisation.
Former president Nelson Mandela once said that young people are our greatest treasure because our future belongs to the youth. Therefore, if we want to create a thriving and prosperous society, we need to start with creating an environment that teaches, supports and equips our youth to contribute to the world; empowering them to make the most of the possibilities that lie ahead.