NYARI SAMUSHONGA: To solve youth unemployment we just need to connect the existing dots

To solve youth unemployment we just need to connect the existing dots

No need for more money or new ecosystems — we must understand the infrastructure we already have

A well-known African proverb says: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” For years the race to solve youth unemployment was rushed, with little preparation for the journey and a vague idea of where the finish line was.

A lot of money is directed to this noble effort, and many well-intentioned stakeholders spearhead the endeavour, but somehow we have missed the mark in terms of producing sustainable and meaningful results.

Yet a solution to SA’s rampant youth unemployment exists in understanding the infrastructure within the public and private sectors and bringing them together in a manner that does not ask for new programmes or ecosystems to be built, nor ask for more money to be spent. Instead, it lies in connecting the dots that have always been there and making better use of existing resources for mutual benefit.

Billions of rand are being put into building skills, yet we struggle with a skills shortage in SA even while about 60% of our youth are unemployed. This is a symptom of a larger problem — we are not producing industry-relevant skills. This is despite continuous investment in skills development from both the public and private sectors.

This is a problem experienced in various industries, but in technology in particular, and the risk of continuing down this path is huge. Technology is shaping the economy and driving the future of the workplace. Because of this, economic opportunities for software developers will continue to rise. Yet thousands of jobs in technology remain vacant in SA due to a chronic shortage of skilled developers and competition from global companies for these scarce skills.

Recent estimates put the figure of potential earnings lost from tech jobs outsourced to other countries at about R800m per month. This is a huge loss to the SA economy, and an even bigger loss in terms of jobs for unemployed youth who have the potential to become software developers.

If you consider that an entry-level developer earns about R240,000 a year, and that within four years that figure can rise to R800,000, it becomes clear that we are leaving money on the table. By not interrogating shortfalls within the current training models and investing in outcome-based training systems, we risk falling further behind as a player in the global digital economy.  

Other countries such as Poland and India have created offshore skills models. In India’s case this is worth more than R200bn per annum to the economy. Out of sheer desperation caused by the lack of skills at home SA companies are spending inordinate sums of money offshore on skills that we should be producing here. It is quite conceivable that we could reverse the capital flow and start competing meaningfully with the likes of India and Poland.

Recently, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced an additional R800m investment in the National Skills Fund, focused on digital skills, in a bid to fight unemployment. If we consider this money, and other existing funds in the ecosystem, we can agree that the intention is to invest in skills development to generate jobs, boost economic growth and have positive social effects. However, to achieve this we must do things differently and demand tangible skills development outcomes.

By continuing to invest in systems that are not delivering jobs we risk having the same unemployment issues decades down the line. The public and private sectors should be actively looking for pockets of skill-building success and converging financial capacity to deliver on the mandate of skills development that leads to job creation.

The private sector would benefit from an enlarged, work-ready local skills force, and the public sector would benefit from reduced unemployment, increased tax revenue and optimised budget spending. As simple as the concept is, it requires senior people in both sectors to make firm decisions around skills development budgets and outcomes. The models exist; we’ve seen the effects of the accounting and legal industries banding together to create skills pools that benefit all players in the market. 

The infrastructure needed to scale up the effect also exists. Working only with one technical vocational education & training (TVET) college WeThinkCode has widened its geographic reach and increased its capacity to train more youths. Expanding the partnership to other TVET colleges means scaling nationally to deliver exponential outcomes not deemed possible before.

The funding needed to scale exists. SA has one of the largest education budgets in the world, outspending some global economic leaders. We have the potential, but to realise it and rid our country of perpetual unemployment requires a concerted effort from all stakeholders to invest in skills development models that deliver outcomes beyond the training itself.

• Samushonga is CEO of WeThinkCode.

Source: Businesslive