OPINION | The year of Charlotte Maxeke: Growing youth employment for a transformed society

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Mr Billy Tom, CEO and MD of Isuzu Motors South Africa
Mr Billy Tom, CEO and MD of Isuzu Motors South Africa

Billy Tom is the CEO and MD of Isuzu Motors South Africa.

This year's Youth Day and Youth Month theme is 'The Year of Charlotte Mannya Maxeke: Growing youth employment for an inclusive and transformed society'.

According to Mr Tom, South Africa's unemployment figure stands at 46.3% for the first quarter of 2021.

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This year National Youth Day and Youth Month will be celebrated under the theme: "The Year of Charlotte Mannya Maxeke: Growing youth employment for an inclusive and transformed society" and could arguably be considered one of the most important themes to date.

The theme is particularly appropriate considering the issue of unemployment that is beleaguering South African society, especially amongst our youth. Internationally, youth unemployment stands at 13.6%.

In South Africa, this figure stands at a staggering 46.3% for the first quarter of 2021. The private sector should take this opportunity to reflect or even re-imagine our commitment, empowerment and development of youth that will be responsible for driving sustainability and innovation of organisations in the future.

The transfer of skills

Mr Billy Tom, CEO and MD of Isuzu Motors South Afr
Mr Billy Tom, CEO and MD of Isuzu Motors South Africa

There are three concepts for youth development that come to mind when I reflect on this year's Youth Month theme. Firstly, skills training and development with a focus on addressing workplace gender inequality. I believe companies should keep workplace skills development and training for women on the highest possible level of organisational development agendas. Solutions should be designed to enable the transfer of skills to female youth so as to empower them and break-down barriers that impede their growth, potential and leadership opportunities.

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Maxeke is remembered as a lone brave female voice that stood out. For young female leaders and graduates in training, organisations should be encouraged to create skills programmes that are specifically tailored to address the challenges women face in the workplace. Importantly, the responsibility also lies on managers and leaders to ensure that organisational environments are conducive to promote and nurture the ideas, views and potential of young women.

Billy Tom Isuzu
Mr Billy Tom, CEO and MD of Isuzu Motors South Africa

Secondly, an important component of this year's Youth Month theme revolves around working towards a desired future vision, which can only be attained through transformation. Transformation is broad, so I would like to share my view of it from a technological perspective. There is consensus that the country's ability to harness technological innovation through the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) will, in turn, prosper economically and offer support in reducing inequality and unemployment. The Global Coalition for Education's (GBC-Education) views, together with Deloitte's publication on the workforce's requirements for 4IR, offer excellent direction for South African organisations.

As noted by GBC-Education, if the business community wants to remain relevant with industries of the future, it must proactively work with young people to support future workforce needs. To achieve this, education and skills development is the critical catalyst. This begins with policy change in education, which I believe is well underway in South Africa through a focus on STEM. I was encouraged and excited when our Isuzu plant in Gqeberha recently sponsored a webinar on Artificial Intelligence (AI) for school learners in the Nelson Mandela metro.

South African businesses then need to keep their training and skills development relevant and ongoing to support the imminent 4IR shift. Organisations can empower youth entering the workplace through training and skills development focusing on workplace readiness, soft skills as well as technical and entrepreneurial skills, as highlighted by Deloitte. This should be a recurrent theme in continuous learning and training agendas of organisations.

Mr Billy Tom, CEO and MD of Isuzu Motors South Afr
Mr Billy Tom, CEO and MD of Isuzu Motors South Africa

Finally, youth month deals with the creation of an inclusive society. For businesses, this translates into remaining committed to the creation of inclusive workplaces with organisational cultures promoting a deep sense of belonging, especially for the youth. There is ample evidence on the importance of inclusive workplaces. Most notably being improved engagement and decision-making by employees. 

To be innovation leaders in their market, South African organisations' workplace inclusivity strategies must underscore and embrace the importance and inclusion of youth across all spheres of the business. Growing up in a network society and knowledge economy, there is no doubt in my mind that youth are the crucial circuitry that should be wired across organisations for the future.

In short, organisations that plan to succeed in the future should work hard to embrace youth who can play an important role in creating innovation, facilitating positive disruption, improving problem-solving, increasing flexibility, and unlocking creativity – all which are required for improving and enhancing the competitiveness of South African businesses on a global scale.

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