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 Youth entrepreneurship can solve job crisis, but only if all participate

 

 The unemployment crisis among the youth, not only in South Africa but globally, is so dire that entrepreneurship must play a central role in solving it, but it will require the participation of the whole of society to make it work, says David Morobe, regional general manager at Business Partners Limited.

The International Labour Organisation estimates that as much as 40% of the world’s youth are either unemployed or underemployed, and in South Africa youth joblessness stands at over 50%. In rural areas the problem is even worse.

The model of preparing the youth only for the job market is clearly failing in the modern world, and Morobe believes that society’s focus needs to shift to entrepreneurship in order to solve the problem.

Why entrepreneurship? Firstly, Morobe believes that youth entrepreneurship is valuable to society in its own right, and not only as a solution to unemployment. The social media revolution, for example, was conceptualised and driven by very young entrepreneurs who were not fettered by set ways of doing things. If the only entrepreneurs were mature adults, it is highly likely that the communication technology revolution would not nearly have been as far-reaching as it has turned out to be.

Secondly, entrepreneurship is by definition an action-oriented approach to individual circumstances, and as such is a powerful antidote to the massively debilitating effects of long-term unemployment, including feelings of worthlessness, boredom, despondency, and anti-social behaviour. The mere attempt at being of service by spotting a need in the market and trying to fill it can restore a sense of self-worth and purpose.

But Morobe believes that it is not simply a case of saying: “If you can’t find a job start a business.”

Business management and the set of skills and attitudes needed to succeed as an entrepreneur are very complex and it cannot simply be left to the youth to find their own way.

Rather, Morobe advocates a whole-society approach which must involve not only entrepreneurs and the unemployed youth, but every parent, teacher, civil servant and politician. Every family and each community as a whole has to strive to become a hothouse in which the youth can start and grow businesses.

It all starts with what Morobe calls “doing skills” such as welding, plumbing, driving, carpentry, electronics, programming, tiling, panel beating, cooking, designing, painting and sewing. The teaching of general business knowledge such as a management, planning and accounting is also important, but these are secondary and must not be emphasised over basic vocational skills. It is a major mistake to think that because the focus shifts away from the jobs market to entrepreneurship, that teaching and training must shift away from doing skills to general business management. A youth entrepreneurship movement will only be as good as the vocational training that lies at its foundation.

Even though vocational skills are no longer a guarantee to find full-time employment, it remains the basis from which a young unemployed person can start a service by fixing a car for a family member, for example, or sewing a dress for a matric dance.

Once vocational skills training is firmly in place, additional knowledge such as entrepreneurship awareness, general business planning and management skills, innovation and lateral thinking skills will go a long way to start and sustain a youth entrepreneurship movement. 

And on top of those, the cultivation of entrepreneurial values such resilience, self-reliance and recovery from failure are necessary to cement a culture of entrepreneurship.

Morobe says the role of teachers, from primary school to tertiary institutions, cannot be overemphasised. Teachers do not have to be entrepreneurs themselves in order to participate in a youth entrepreneurship movement. By bringing local entrepreneurs into the classroom, or just by naming successful business owners who have sat in the same classroom, a teacher can change the entrepreneurial inclination of his or her learners.

The teaching of entrepreneurship cannot be limited to a single course. Rather, it is a long-term atmosphere and frame of reference that needs to be created in the classroom. 

Established entrepreneurs themselves have an important part to play as role models and as mentors, and their businesses can benefit from contributing to enterprise development programmes. Senior entrepreneurs can set aspiring young entrepreneurs on the path to success just by allowing them access to their established support networks. The burden of supporting the next generation of entrepreneurs becomes lighter if captains of industry join forces to start industry-wide enterprise development initiatives.

Access to finance remains an important catalyst for the growth of businesses. Again, only a whole-society approach can fully fund a youth entrepreneurship movement, starting with family and friends, angel investors, crowd funding, corporate enterprise development funds, government programmes and formal finance institutions.

Failure is as much a part of entrepreneurship as is getting up and trying again until you succeed, says Morobe. A society that wants to sustain a youth entrepreneurship movement strong enough to solve the youth unemployment crisis must change its approach to business failure so that there is honour in having tried, even if you don’t succeed the first time.

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