With South Africa facing the quadruple threat of low economic growth, critically high youth unemployment, the Covid-19 pandemic and a workforce that is largely unprepared for the rapid explosion of the digital age, the question of jobs has to be tackled with urgency. This was a key theme of the Absa Business Day Supplier Development Digital Dialogue webinar, where a panel tackled the pressing topic of the future of jobs in South Africa.

As Vusi Fele of Absa asks “Where will social cohesion and social instability go to if we don’t tackle this problem?”  Africa’s fast-growing youth population is largely unemployed, and lacks adequate skills of the right kind – which means that we have to respond with a changed approach if we are to build a healthy social fabric.

We need globally competitive small suppliers 

A transformed society requires growth-ready small suppliers. Panelist and entrepreneur Mathapelo Montsho of Why Cook, questioned the SME-sectors’ readiness to survive further major disruptions, and highlighted an alarming lack of skills to solve complex problems and a need for reskilling of the future-fit workforce.

Beyond this, to become globally competitive small suppliers must be reliable, agile and professional; and responsive to industry trends and changing client needs.

Trends in the traditional workforce, local and global value chains

Jon Foster-Pedley of Henley Business School is forthright in his belief that “Covid has woken everyone up with its visible and shocking transitional change.” He continues “Africa is now at a boiling point with 45% of employees mismatched in terms of skills needed for our current economy, compared to other developing nations that switched their economies from raw production to high quality tech-based economies”. As we know, Africa has many great minds capable of radically transforming growth but we need public and private partnerships to provide access to the right education.

Many training organisations, including The African Management Institute, experienced accelerated digital adoption as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Workplace training has gone virtual, providing easier access to education for more people.

Government’s role in skills development

Government has an important role to build more responsive education solutions. It needs to engage with the academic sector to identify and respond to skills shortages in the economy. This includes enabling the creation of entry level jobs, strategies to keep current jobs and create new ones – enhanced by on-the-job learning.

Ultimately though, Government departments will need to work more swiftly and deliver on policies that enable broad-scale, transformative solutions to create economic growth and the skillsets to drive it.

The role of corporates

The huge and growing joblessness requires us to do more. By looking across the whole value chain, leaders in supplier development can identify spaces for entrepreneurs to provide services and create shared value. The future of jobs is a shared responsibility of employment and entrepreneurship. “It’s clear that Africa cannot catch up to the rest of the world if we keep doing things the way that we’re doing them, and our economies will fail unless we address the social challenges that unemployment delivers,” concludes Fele.

Key learning points

  1. Africa is a continent filled with rising youth potential.
  2. Traditional formal education is delivering skills that are mismatched to employers’ current and future needs.
  3. Covid-19 has boosted online training making access to skills-development cheaper and easier for all.
  4. Africa’s youth need to re-focus their skills into entrepreneurship, placing future jobs in their hands.
  5. Future-focused corporates are accelerating their drive to provide practical, on the job training to small suppliers, unlocking opportunities throughout their value chain.
  6. As the post-Covid economy opens up markets across borders SMEs need to ensure their products and services are world class to be competitive.
  7. Collaboration (SMEs, corporate, academia and Government) is essential if we are to change Africa’s growth trajectory.

To watch the discussion, click here.

To join the 2021 Absa Business Day Supplier Development Awards and be part of this dynamic network of people changing the future of South Africa visit www.sdawards.co.za or email info@sdawards.co.za today.