Dudu Hlatshwayo | Are we the leaders our youth deserve?

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The youth who remain in SA face not only poverty and joblessness, but have little chance to gain hands-on experience or be mentored by people who are already in the field. Picture: istock
The youth who remain in SA face not only poverty and joblessness, but have little chance to gain hands-on experience or be mentored by people who are already in the field. Picture: istock

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South Africa is facing a number of critical challenges, of which two of the most worrying are a faltering economy and a crisis in leadership. This is leaving many of our future business leaders either waiting on the sidelines or, more tragically, leaving the country.

Numbers don’t lie and, according to Stats SA, we not only recorded the highest unemployment rate of 34.9% during the last quarter of 2021, but we have a heartbreaking 65.5% youth unemployment rate.

READ: Government needs to take huge risks to tackle youth unemployment – economist

South Africa’s public and private sectors are facing worrying skills shortages, yet more and more people are graduating from local universities. This just doesn’t add up.

With the high rate of unemployment in the country, the number of skilled young people who are going overseas to seek work opportunities is growing rapidly. The youth who remain behind face not only poverty and joblessness, but have little chance to gain hands-on experience or be mentored by people who are already in the field.

So who is left to advance the objectives of our country and our economy?

If you look closely, you’ll realise that, as a country, we are not utilising the human resources that are available to us, resources which have been tried and tested in their ability to transform the graduates of today into the leaders of tomorrow. There are many highly qualified professionals who are observers rather than participants in South Africa’s economy.

Recent years of corruption and the findings of the various commissions of inquiry have thrown a large spotlight on the importance of integrity and ethics in business and society in general. Of course, some allegations of corruption were unfounded, and people were exonerated through the proper processes, but it’s unfortunate that, regardless of no evidence having been found against them, highly talented people are now out in the cold, unable to contribute to an economy that is in desperate need of all the skills it can harness.

READ: The hard, sad facts about our disempowered youth

We all need to stand up and say that it is time our country recognises the pool of talent it has lying unutilised.

At Change EQ, on a daily basis, we come across business enterprises that are struggling financially and underperforming operationally, and were underperforming even before the Covid-19 pandemic. We’ve discovered in them issues such as poor business management and sometimes fraud and corruption, misappropriation of funds by management and self-enrichment.

When a business underperforms, the losers are the investors that have put their hard-earned cash into the business, as well as the employees.

If the companies of tomorrow are going to succeed and the economy is to recover then we need to invest in the development of management teams. We must make sure that we have strong leaders at the helm of enterprises, as well as boards of directors grounded in good corporate governance.

The legacy we can leave behind for the business leaders of tomorrow is to learn from the mistakes of the past and the present, and make sure there are always mentors in place who can help them be the leaders our country desperately needs.

Hlatshwayo is founder and chief executive of Change EQ, a corporate advisory firm


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