CTU Training Solutions held a webinar in May at which it discussed how learning institutions at all levels can make their learners more employable. Johan Wildenboer, Communication, PR and Events Manager at CTU Training Solutions, starts out by saying: “We believe helping the youth to make better career choices will help in the fight against youth unemployment. We need to pave the way for students to enter the jobs market with the skills required by the fourth industrial revolution.”

“Considering the high percentage of youth unemployment in SA – more than 60% – what do we need to consider in the struggle to combat unemployment?”

Nicola Tager, Global Head of Careers at Investec, says it comes down to an issue of supply and demand. “There must be demand in terms of job opportunities for people, no matter how skilled they are. If the economy doesn’t grow, then job opportunities won’t grow. The country can’t afford to keep losing skills to opportunities abroad, but also needs to create the right environment to encourage entrepreneurship locally.”

Chantelle Oosthuizen, Executive Director of the Cyril Ramaphosa Education Trust, agrees that youth unemployment is a critical issue in SA. “There’s a great divide between education and the economy. On one hand, we have demand for skills; on the other, we have graduates who can’t find employment, so perhaps we need to look at which qualifications people are getting.

“By and large, the youth tend to look towards engineering, law or accounting as a future career. This is perhaps because there hasn’t been a discussion around career choice. When choosing a direction for their studies, they need to think about the future of work, what the economy requires and the skillsets that will meet that.”

Dr Shirley Zinn, Author and Non-Executive Director on several boards, adds: “We need to embark on strategies like focusing on skills development, strengthening their educational foundation, giving people tools and tips to succeed in the job market, teaching them how to look for opportunities to become entrepreneurs and start their own business.”

1. Preparing people for the future

Wildenboer states: “Entrepreneurship is an important aspect; we need to guide the youth so they can be more employable and find opportunities once they’ve competed their studies.”

Dr Erna Gerryts, Educational Psychologist at the University of Stellenbosch, says career counselling should start at an earlier age. “What can the individual do to render themselves more employable? This comes back to skills, abilities and entrepreneurship. The individual should think about what they can do over and above their studies and draw on those skills and capabilities.”

“It’s essential for the youth to look at the current environment before deciding on a direction for their study, to establish the skills that are in demand,” confirms Wildenboer.

Confidence Dikgole, CEO of the Independent Examination Board (IEB), says we can’t talk about high youth unemployment without looking at the root causes in the education system. “Is the curriculum still relevant? Is there a link between the curriculum offered in schooling and that offered in higher education and training? We need a three-stream model: an academic, vocational and technical model so we can channel learners into different streams.”

She says the mindset around employability needs to change. “Ask yourself how you can contribute to the economy. A career isn’t just about a job, it’s about being a disruptor and contributing to the economy. We should equip students with the correct skills to be disruptors and not just wait for someone to employ them.”

“It’s true that learners aren’t always adequately prepared for the world of work. A university education isn’t the right solution for everyone, we need to look at other avenues where youngsters can be educated to make them more employable.”

Janine Hills, CEO and founder of Authentic Leadership, encourages youth to start acquiring skills as early as possible, by volunteering wherever they can. “By so doing, they’ll render themselves more employable and gain skills over and above those offered by formal education. They’ll also gain valuable entrepreneurship skills.”

2. Meet them where they are

Wildenboer interjects: “We live in a digital environment; do the youth see beyond the screen in front of them? How do we use the digital environment, which is where the youth live, to motivate them to develop skills, make a difference and find solutions?”

Dr Gerryts replies: “Digital platforms like LinkedIn can be helpful, but it’s also possible to become so intimidated by what everyone else does that it can impact the individual’s confidence. There are measures that can help build confidence – if you do something you haven’t done before, it builds confidence. The more you do, the more your confidence will grow.”

Dr Zinn says: “Social platforms are just one way in which you can put yourself out there and connect with a broader network. You need a network of role models and coaches that will help you acquire softer skills, like collaboration, preparing for an interview and believing in yourself. A mindset of learning must be nurtured, whether it be from other people, the news or reading.”

“LinkedIn won’t make you employable,” says Dikgole, “but it will expose you to opportunities. LinkedIn provides an opportunity to display your skills and knowledge.”

Tager adds: “Technology gives students access to information and networking opportunities with people beyond their natural reach.”

Glenda Jumira, Founding Director and Specialist Wellness Counsellor at StressXchange, points out that it’s essential to meet the youth where they are, ie, on digital platforms. “We should guide them to consume content that will be helpful to their career, as well as how to approach a potential mentor or role model on these platforms.”

3. What is career readiness?

Dr Jerry Gule, CEO, Institute of People Management (IPM), says career readiness is about the individual’s attitude. “You must be open to learning, regardless of the job that you have. You also need good communication skills and curiosity about your job – and the world around you – because that will lead to learning.”

Wildenboer agrees: an appetite for knowledge and information and the ability to express yourself are key skills.

Dr Zinn says being career ready goes beyond the candidate’s CV. “He or she must be able to interview well, communicate well and create a rapport with people. They can improve these skills by doing simulated interviews. It’s also important to do the practical work – they might have qualifications and skills, but are those transferrable into other areas?”

She also emphasises the importance of being in a constant learning cycle to keep pace with the world.

Jumira recommends job shadowing to improve the learner’s soft skills in the workplace.

4. Employability versus experience

How can we incorporate workplace learning into the academic curriculum? asks Wildenboer.

Dr Gerryts poses the question: Is it the responsibility of academic institutions to make learners career ready or is it industry’s responsibility? She believes the onus is also on the individuals to make themselves more employable by doing anything that will give them job experience, such as vacation work.

Oosthuizen agrees that the individual must stand out from the crowd when applying for a job and that volunteering at a charity or NGO or having a side hustle will look good on their CV. “It speaks to the individual’s resilience.”

“What makes your CV unique?” asks Dr Zinn. “Volunteering tells a whole story about who you are, what you’re about, your purpose in life. It can also help you develop leadership skills. We’re also seeing industry collaborating with educational institutions to give learners workplace experience.”

Dikgole adds: “Career preparation shouldn’t only start when the learner starts with their further education, it should start in school. We need to see increasing collaboration between industry, NGOs and schools so that learners can acquire workplace skills and get credits for doing so. This type of collaboration will also highlight the current workplace requirements that need to be integrated into the school curriculum.”

5. Mentors, role models and coaches

“Finally, we need to discuss the role of coaching, mentoring and role models, inspiring youth from a leadership point of view,” says Wildenboer. “How would someone go about finding such a person?”

Coaching is an important element of development, agrees Dr Zinn. “You need to find someone you can learn from, who can give you tips and tools. Sometimes you’ll find a mentor in a family member, friend, colleague, teacher or spouse. It’s also important to note that you don’t need to set up formal sessions, you can have a quick chat or WhatsApp exchange.

“Surround yourself with people who support, assist and uplift you. The quality of our lives is defined by the quality of our relationships.”

Dr Gerryts adds an interesting point: “The current generation often find their own peers to be the best coaches as they’ve been through the same journey.”

Dr Gule concludes: “Unfortunately, there are too many poor role models for today’s youth, so they need to seek out genuine and authentic people. With the high youth unemployment rate on our continent, the youth need to have an internal drive to better themselves, to improve their own situation and that of those around them.”

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