Imagine leaving home at 18 with no family or safety net, no mentor or mental blueprint, armed with the knowledge that your education is less than adequate, that you’re one in 7.2 million young people trying to find a job to pay rent, eat and live. How motivated would you be?
According to The Global Economy website data, South Africa has just earned the dubious reputation of having the highest number of unemployed youth in the world. Globally, 73 million youth are registered as unemployed. In the next decade, 600 million young people are expected to enter the job market, with an estimated 200 million job vacancies to fill.
While these figures dominate the headlines, the solution is not in black and white.
The causes are numerous: the legacy of apartheid, poor education and training, labour demand and supply mismatch, effects of global recession, slow economic growth and what is perceived as the general lack of interest in entrepreneurship.
The symptoms of inertia
Inertia is the tendency to resist change and stay in a current state of motion. It can be scientifically calculated: the amount of force needed for someone or something to break away from a trajectory. But you don’t have to be a physicist to understand the challenges of change that people face daily. To connect or launch initiatives requires behavioural change.
So why, I hear you ask, do the youth not simply adjust their attitude? Well, my answer to that is because they are afraid of what they perceive to be failure, or they are unclear how to properly make change. When this paralysing inertia sets in, then the youth (or organisations, for that matter) run the risk of major disruption.
Taking this one step further, with the premise that fear of change is what activates the brakes, we can logically conclude that the reasons for inertia do not lie with resources, time, management or market share. The reason for inertia can be attributed to a faulty mind-set that passes up potential opportunities because of aversion to change.
Just because you fear change or continue to do things the ‘tried-and-tested’ way, does not mean that change will not find you. All around us technology is rapidly evolving and enabling things to happen. Those who are stuck in a mental rut are unable to change quickly enough to remain immune to external forces.
The issue with inertia, both on an initiative and organisational level, is that you have essentially handed over control of your destiny. You’re no longer in the driver’s seat; instead, you’re waiting for the market to force change on you. Rather than spurring change with new ideas and innovations, you’ve taken on a passive role.
- The disruption may be so rapid and immense you won’t be able to keep pace; or
- You could face smaller disruptive changes that you’ll be able to overcome through the status quo approach. This is dangerous because it could lull you into a false sense of security. The next time you’re hit by disruption, you could be upended.
How do we help the youth transition into an independent adulthood with a positive life outcome?
Let’s face it, it’s a stark reality to confront and South Africa’s most intractable challenge, despite the government’s wide-spread investment.
The challenge lies with how we determine what is working and how we evaluate whether youth-oriented programmes are successful when unemployment is caused largely by the structure of the economy. Does a programme result in a young person getting employed? Job placement cannot be a sole indicator of successful intervention.
Gaining momentum to make a change, or to move past inertia, is not easy. Even if on the surface the change is a welcomed one, old habits and mind-sets die hard. But these three suggestions can help our youth overcome inherent challenges of change to meet their desired outcomes:
1. Young people of this generation need to know the WHY. Most people are not motivated to change unless the vision of what that change will bring is stronger and more powerful than the comfort of staying in the current state. Leaders or mentors need to paint a vision of what change will bring. Help a young person understand what will be different in the desired state. There must be emotional buy-in to the positive rewards they’ll experience. Understanding a behaviour profile can be the first step towards smashing inertia.
2. Stay the course. Leaders/mentors can expect a company or individual to want to gravitate back to the old norm. Anticipate this and implement strategies to combat this natural reaction. Make change into a game, a friendly competition, a daily conversation. Keep the change visible, talk about it frequently and make it as engaging as possible. Even if there is a grumble, steady the course and plough on. Further down the line, momentum will hopefully kick in.
3. It takes a lifetime of discipline to change. Change and new behaviours need to become a habit. Expect setbacks but keep practising new behaviours. Bring conscious awareness to the progress made. Eventually the new will become the norm.
There are other solutions that are currently being rolled out, some very successfully, but it must be stressed that programmes are not worth much if they do not include behavioural change: it takes a lifetime of discipline for that.
1. Feel hopeful
Build resilience and mind-set practices to fight inertia.
2. Education and training programmes
These need to be targeted at the skills gap level, such as employability skills, entrepreneurship and vocational education, including opportunities in the green economy.
3. Youth access to capital
For young people to get start-ups funded, they shouldn’t have to rely on banks alone. Crowdfunding sites such as Youth Business International give young people all over the world the chance to get the support they need to build their enterprises and increase their income.
4. Universal internet access and greater availability of cheap tech
Computer Aid is currently providing IT education across 32 countries. While it’s a step in the right direction, infrastructure development is a stumbling block.
5. Skills matching
The private sector, government and education systems need to collaborate to determine what knowledge and skills young people should be taught in order to find rewarding work. Businesses should play a more active role in promoting appropriate education and skills building for young people from an early age. Wider efforts to involve the private sector in education are needed.
In summary, as another Youth Day comes and goes, let’s take the time to delve deeper into how we find the solutions to divert the ticking time bomb. The thing I know for sure is that initiative needs to go hand in hand with behavioural change; initiative must be recognised, acknowledged and rewarded. The youth also need to feel connected or part of something, which will reap rewards and provide them with a better life outcome.
Sanei is a futures strategist