South African women entrepreneurs do more than just create jobs – they contribute significantly to human-capital development. This was highlighted in the inaugural South African Women Entrepreneurs Job Creators Survey, which featured responses from 913 women entrepreneurs in the country between November 2020, and April 2021. The results showed that the overwhelming majority (80%) of women entrepreneurs have invested in employee training in the past 12 months.
Another point of interest that the survey brought to the fore was the fact that female employers prioritise factors like work-readiness and soft skills over an academic or vocational qualification. This finding is encouraging – as it shows that female entrepreneurs are willing to look beyond “hard skills” and see that candidates have the potential to learn and grow in their roles. It’s an important perspective that points to the willingness of women to help their employees acquire the hard skills they need to excel in their positions, based on a solid foundation of “softer skills”; like being diligent, committed to learning and working well with people.
With unemployment in South Africa having reached record-high levels, the role of women entrepreneurs as skills developers cannot be underestimated. A strong case can be made for the fact that, above and beyond the problem we face with a lack of jobs, there is also a significant skills shortage, which is part of a global phenomenon.
Entrepreneurs then, are integral not only as job creators but as developers of social capital – they play crucial roles in preparing their staff for the evolution of the working world. One of the major challenges is for the South African community to stop relegating skills development and training to the realms of secondary and tertiary education, but to acknowledge that this can take place within the workplace itself.
The South African Women Entrepreneurs Job Creators Survey also found that 49% of respondents view the cost of hiring and training staff as a barrier to job creation. How do we make training more accessible within the workplace? How do we develop the infrastructure to train more people, beyond obtaining standard qualifications? How can the public and private sector collaborate to train more unemployed youth and women? These are the kinds of questions that need to be asked by both the public and private sectors in order to assist women in driving job creation and skills development.
The need to upskill to meet the needs of an ever-changing working landscape is becoming increasingly important. With rapid advancements in technology, the working world is a competitive arena where specialist skills are in high demand. Therein lies one of the greatest opportunities for South Africans in general and female entrepreneurs in particular. Here individuals have the space and capacity to grow and innovate – to fill the gaps that exist and take advantage of the opportunities that are arising in various sectors like technology, banking, retail and manufacturing.
As Women’s Month draws to a close, now is the time to celebrate female entrepreneurs and job creators and reflect on the practical changes South Africans can make towards supporting women and encouraging female entrepreneurship.