Digitally savvy youth must lead SA in new era

2019-08-23 14:00

The activities for Women’s Month have presented us with an opportunity to evaluate the progress the country has made since the dawn of democracy in 1994. As much as great strides have been made in certain areas, it is important to acknowledge that more work still needs to be done to tackle issues of gender inequality and to deal with the continuing exclusion of certain segments of society such as women, youth and persons with disabilities.

South Africans will agree that unemployment remains the biggest challenge, with the expanded unemployment rate among women sitting at 42.5%, against 35% among men, as per the last month’s unemployment statistics released by Stats SA. These numbers are appalling and cannot be ignored.

We cannot address and seek solutions for unemployment without putting a more solid reinforcement on young women who are affected and counted within the 63.4% youth unemployment rate that recently sent the country into shock.

This revelation has an extended effect on women with disabilities who face numerous barriers when it comes to securing employment. We need to ensure that programmes put in place to advance women in the economy include and are accessible to women with disabilities. Employers in both the public and private sectors cannot expect persons with disabilities to compete in environments that do not have enabling tools to excel and be competitive.

The ripple effects of our failure to focus on young women will bring us back to the same gender inequality issues we are faced with today. The question is, how do we then ensure that no one is left behind in our fight for economic inclusion?

The shocking unemployment figures are a wake-up call highlighting two factors:

  • Firstly, the need for employers in all sectors to create a conducive environment that allows for growth and opportunities needed to empower those who are already on the payroll but most importantly create new employment opportunities; and
  • Secondly, an urgent need for disruption in our education system so as to create pathways for driving sustainable employment and entrepreneurship.

There have been great endorsements and partnerships between government and the private sector in accelerating solutions for youth employment. We need to focus on programmes such as the Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator, National Rural Youth Service Corps programme and the Youth Employment Services (YES) which are generating meaningful solutions to the unemployment rate.

Harambee has built a network of 600 000 youngsters and worked with 500 businesses to deliver 125 000 jobs and work experiences. YES aims to empower a million unemployed youngsters by offering them the first chance at quality paid work opportunities.

We continue the clarion call, especially for big businesses, to budget for the inclusion and development of these new entrants because without an adequate budget, they will not succeed. The National Rural Youth Service will provide young rural people with opportunities to create employment.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, at the Women’s Day commemoration, said: 

There can be no true liberation of women unless they are economically empowered

We must continue to ensure that women enjoy access to the same economic opportunities as men, especially young women who are entering the labour markets. Procurement is the vehicle that government can use as a lever for fast-tracking inclusion of people left behind. Our ability to monitor and track all beneficiaries will take the struggle of inequality forward, by reducing unemployment and eliminating poverty in society.

The president highlighted that the empowerment of women is everyone’s business and needs the support of government, business, labour and civil society. We must not take lightly opportunities that technology brings for innovation and the use of digital literacy as another solution to eradicate unemployment.

The perception is that the implementation of the fourth industrial revolution will contribute to the unemployment rate. But if we are being honest the statistics are already a much bigger threat than that of the fourth industrial revolution. Its implementation comes with unknown jobs, which will require specific skill sets. However, the high unemployment rate doesn’t allow opportunities for young people to get additional skills.

The abundance of technology is effective in providing alternative learning tools and contributing massively to digital entrepreneurship. The era we find ourselves in requires an injection of youthful thinking that will integrate with institutional knowledge and expertise built over the years.

To navigate this era, we will require an army of young men and women who are digitally savvy to find solutions to business problems and introduce game-changing ideas and take the country forward.

Mkhize is deputy minister for women, youth and persons with disabilities in the presidency

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February 23 2020