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Why South Africa needs to pay attention to its youth demography

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By Ifeyinwa-Ugochukwu

Youth unemployment has posed socio and economic threats and growth stagnation across the globe. In South Africa, concerns are on the rise on how to address both the increased growth of this demographic and how to sufficiently address their demands in a manner that is sustainable. Although there was a recorded economic growth of 1,1% in the first quarter of 2021, recent research still echoes that South African youths are burdened by unemployment, accounting for over 50% of the total number of unemployed people.

Reimagining labour to create employment

Every year, Africa introduces over 10million youth into its labor force, with the capacity to generate only 3 million new job opportunities. Two in every five young people of working age are in some form of employment in Africa. In 2020, about 2.5 million young people between the ages of 15 and 34 were unemployed in South Africa, marking the country’s unemployment rate to be 32.%. Now in 2021, the statistics are not improving, with a record of 32.6% at the end of the first quarter. South Africa is still witnessing the highest jobless rate –irrespective of education level – since comparable data began in 2008. 

One interesting feature about this dilemma of having an equal amount of human capital and job scarcity is that the problem and the solution co-exist. Africa’s youth population can be strategically utilized to solve its youth unemployment. Policy leaders and private sector organizations are tasked with the responsibility to identify ways to leverage the economy to create employment. For instance, encouraging local businesses to leverage locally available human and financial capital, raw materials, and other inputs will lead to the creation of longer, more integrated, and higher value supply chains within local communities.

Change agents against unemployment

Although South Africa is leading the world ranking for youth unemployment, other African countries are towing the line, reiterating the urgency with which the continent must address its approach to securing an economically stable future. In any country, the challenge of job creation cannot be successfully tackled without the active involvement of the private sector. Addressing this requires a new and more sustainable approach to job creation and the SME ecosystem. For small businesses, scaling requires commitments from both the private and public sectors. Infrastructure development, as well as maximizing the use of existing resources and prioritizing small businesses will streamline economic delivery.

On the continent, the Tony Elumelu Foundation has made this a mission. Its focus on unlocking a fraction of Africa’s youth population has demonstrated a positive impact for millions in Africa. Through its operations – the flagship entrepreneurship program, the annual forum, the digital platform – the foundation has shown that there is no shortage of enterprises to support on the continent. In fact, by doing so, the exponential benefits of entrepreneurship in Africa are further exposed.

The value in support

Economic growth and social development can be achieved through increased productivity from private sector players. Youth must be encouraged to take up entrepreneurship to drive long-term value for their communities and boost revenue generation.  However, this solution is less efficient without the right support from the government and the private sector alike. From training entrepreneurs, mentoring, and linking them with appropriate market opportunities, the foundation is emphasizing the role of support in creating new businesses and improving existing businesses. The overall objective of the Tony Elumelu Foundation is to create a strong private sector to drive the creation of jobs and eradication of poverty.

As a ripple effect of the foundation’s entrepreneurship program, 9,038 African entrepreneurs from all 54 African countries have been directly supported. Collectively, these businesses have aided the operations of over 153,000 local businesses and are reported to expend about 343 million USD on projects.

From South Africa, innovations like Senso, a technology company, focused on creating sound assistive tools, that provide Deaf and Hard of Hearing People increased accessibility to their immediate environment using wearables and iMed Tech, a medical prosthesis design and manufacturing company, that specializes in breast prosthesis using 3D design and additive manufacturing in the process chain are some beneficiaries of the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship program. In 2016, the founder of iMed Tech was recognized as Africa’s top Female Innovator and in the following year, won the South African award. 

Into the future of Africa’s Youth demography

Despite multiple migrating endeavors embarked upon by Africa’s youth in search of opportunities, Africa is the only continent where the youth demography is expected to continue to grow in the foreseeable future. What this means is that the right foundations will determine how this will lead to economic and social cohesion, as well as position Africa for global domination across industries.

As with most economies, the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown measures brought about a significant impact on the South African economy. Looking into the future, South Africa’s entrepreneurial ecosystem needs the right boost from public and private sector players to fully activate more jobs. When this occurs, economic prosperity and growth can be achieved.

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