A digital skills partnership is just one of the initiatives to come out of the Accelerating Inclusive Youth Employment conference. Picture: iSTOCK
A digital skills partnership is just one of the initiatives to come out of the Accelerating Inclusive Youth Employment conference. Picture: iSTOCK

SA has now hosted a successful investment summit only a few weeks after signing the jobs summit agreement. Both events were supported by Business Leadership SA (BLSA) in seeking solutions for the challenge of inclusive socio-economic growth.

Our country needs growth that brings more people into our economy, growth that adds more seats to the table, and growth that makes our young people believe it will benefit them.

It will take broad and diverse coalitions working together to make this a reality. At the fifth annual Accelerating Inclusive Youth Employment conference, I joined 250 senior leaders from business, government, labour, and the social sector to tackle this challenge.

Co-convened by Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator, the presidency, the Human Resources Development Council of SA, Yellowwood, and the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection, this gathering has created a credible forum for building solutions that are innovative, pragmatic and can be scaled up to tackle the scourge of youth unemployment.

We rolled up our sleeves in various “action labs” focused on growth sectors where labour-absorbing job creation is possible for our youth. Industry leaders in the business process services sector shared a compelling five-year roadmap to grow foreign direct investment from new markets that could result in thousands of high-quality youth jobs in contact centres, data centres and knowledge hubs across the country.

The less than 10% conversion rate to employment from nearly R200bn spent annually by the government and the private sector (on training, post-school education and skills development) requires breakthrough solutions, not business as usual

A national, digital skills partnership was launched that focused on leveraging successful initiatives to grow junior coders, data analysts, data scientists and software engineers. Building alternative pathways that can prepare young people to respond to large-scale latent demand for installation, repair and maintenance technicians formed another track of focused action for new job creation.

In addition to creating new jobs for young people, inclusive socio-economic growth requires us to pathway the right young people to the right opportunities so that they can succeed, and businesses can grow. The concept of a “pathway manager” was adopted in the jobs summit framework agreement to achieve this goal. It enables Harambee and its partners to create an open-architecture system that puts young people at the centre and guides their zig-zagging journey from education to employment.

Given that nearly half our youth are out of any system — so-called NEETs, who are not in education, employment or training — the need to match human capital solutions to growth sectors of the economy is an imperative.

Results-driven

As business, we also recognise the need to make investments that lead to results. This includes the recently launched Youth Employment Service (YES) to create a million one-year work opportunities for young people over three years. In the area of skills development, we need a dramatic improvement on our current return on investment.

The less than 10% conversion rate to employment from nearly R200bn spent annually by the government and the private sector (on training, post-school education and skills development) requires breakthrough solutions, not business as usual. The conference participants learnt about one of these breakthrough solutions this week.

SA is pioneering a new, social-impact bond for high-skill jobs that brings together the government, investors, funders, implementation partners and evaluators. This model pays for results: when a young person actually gets a job, not when they get expensive training that may never convert into a job. The calibre of early adopters — including the Treasury, Gauteng province, the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation, Hollard, the Standard Bank Tutuwa Community Trust, the Legacy Foundation, and intermediary organisations Bonds4Jobs and the Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator — gives real hope that we may indeed have a breakthrough solution.

In his message of support, President Cyril Ramaphosa said that “we need to involve young people themselves in developing these solutions and I am delighted that there will be young people shaping the conference with their voices, experiences and insights”. For me, this was the real lesson learned and a wake-up call.

Listening to young people is the secret ingredient of inclusive growth.

I saw first-hand that their insights made our debates more informed, our policy recommendations more targeted, and our misconceptions less dangerous. The enthusiasm that young people displayed throughout the conference demonstrated their hunger to be the solution — not the sidelined. The world needs to invest in today’s largest-ever generation of young to ensure that they can optimally contribute to their communities and nations in the future.

Business leaders need to create opportunities for these young minds. Importantly, it was encouraging to observe that if we do not create growth, the future for everyone is bleak. Young people say that economic growth should be the only obsession for all social partners.

As leaders of business, it is time we speak openly and forcefully about what the country’s growth agenda should be.

• Mohale is CEO of Business Leadership SA.