No excuses for SA youth. Digital Internships open international doors

2014-12-11 20:15

With matric and university results being issued in less than a month away, I’m excited to see what South African youth will be up to in 2015. For matriculants, it’s the question of taking a gap year or studying full time. For university graduates, it’s more about finding that dream job that pays well in addition to having a  “Google work environment”... Unfortunately, whatever stage they are at. They need to start at the bottom and prove their worth. With that said, there are SO many opportunities in digital for those who are prepared to put in the work.

Thankfully, there has been steady growth for matric pass rates over the years. However, there are always two sides to the coin.. In 2013 there was an astounding 439 779 passes compared to the 283 294 in 2002. This is taking into consideration grade one repeats and mortality of at least 1000 individuals per grade. Youth (aged 18 specifically) proportion has increased by 0.4 % each year between 2002 and 2012. However, these stats don’t look good when you consider that there were 1 261 827 Grade 1's in 2002 but only 34.8% of these students matriculated.

So we (South Africa) have two problems. Firstly, our youth does not seem to be supported by the teachers. This is most likely because the government hasn't made it attractive to become a teacher, which could boil down to poor salaries, unpaid salaries and/or lack of discipline by children. Just the other day a 15 year old boy was stabbed to death in a local school...

This then brings me to my second point. Lack of skills, specifically in question is the digital industry. Digital is what I know and what I'm close to. These skills are increasing in demand. Supply can't keep up with demand so it's spreading us thin, resulting in a lack of deep, technical knowledge and therefore creating an industry that's not keeping up with international standards. We see traditional marketers and writers from the print industry clamoring for digital jobs. This is great to see as they understand content but in general they lack the technical skills to offer real value back to the client. There are a couple of good 'peeps' and I happen to work with a few really talented digital marketers from a print background. My opinion is taken from a general industry perspective. Through training, an increasing number of digital professionals are offering support to marketing professionals out of frustration because they can't find the talent required to get their business to move forward. Doing this is like putting a plaster on a ruptured artery. Reason one, there are hundreds of people needing training. Secondly, it’s going to take time to reach these people. Why? Some don’t believe they need to improve and are willing to hack it (why should they try improve the knowledge when they are already receiving more than a half decent salary). So if you step back and take the lense of improving the standards in the digital industry, it needs to be initiated with a culture of continuous learning. To do this requires a good base to work from. Grass roots level. I believe that this can be achieved through an internship.

Let's go back to those who are already settled in the industry. They have a nice paying job, their position is in demand so if it doesn't work out they can quickly find a position elsewhere. In their minds, they don't need to improve their skills. There are obviously that 5% who do and kudo's to them, they are the ones who are going to push our industry forward. Companies and students need to embrace internships. It's a cost effective way for companies to increase in house resources and a great way to cherry pick young talent and put them on a career path. Easier said than done though, interns are few and far between and not all students are prepared to put in the hours to get experience. Unfortunately, not many see the long term benefits of getting that one foot in the door with an established agency. We've seen an explosion in e-learning interest that provide you with a certificate, however a certificate does not automatically qualify you for a job. In my opinion a certificate in basic internet marketing is not enough. Our industry training needs to be a lot more technical and our youth needs to challenge the older traditional marketers with their thinking. There are clear challenges here but with a 'resourceful' managerial mindset, traditional marketers can grow with up and coming youth.. A sign of a good manager is one who is secure in him/herself to help grow their team's skill sets.

Our industry training needs to be a lot more technical and our youth needs to challenge the older traditional marketers with their thinking.

With the growth of the digital industry, the youth need to apply a 't-shaped marketers' skill set. With the speed at which the Internet evolves, it's crucial that our industry as a whole to keep their ear to the ground. This can be taught and molded into our youth.

The 'old dog' will need to understand this methodology and should not see it as a threat but as an opportunity.. Their experience can't be bought - there's huge value in this and it needs to be recognised.

There are no shortage of jobs in the digital industry, hence our youth should not be complaining. It frustrates me when some youth’s say "I can't find a job".. Get an internship and get experience!!! And if digital jobs dry up in South Africa, which won't be happening anytime soon, then there is a world of opportunity as a freelancer. Enter elance and you will see what I mean. With a favourable currency to the likes of the US, UK and the rest of Europe, we are an emerging and underestimated outsourcing destination. We need more South African freelancers to put up their hands though.

There are roughly 18 000 000 children (under the age of 17 years) and 600 000 born frees in South Africa, that’s a large number that will be educated in the years to come! South Africa needs a plan to get support and educate these soon to be adults - I’m not sure if we do… Or at least I’m not sure government are putting their best foot forward to help support the youth...

Are job opportunities increasing with the rise of youth matriculating? A Stats SA publication alluded to the fact that youth unemployment has fallen to 36.1 %, which is a 3.4% drop since 2008. You would obviously expect more youth to be employed right? In fact it’s the exact opposite, even though the numbers of education and skills development has improved, we are still not seeing significant increases in youth employment, in fact - being job ready as a youth doesn’t necessarily  mean they are getting any opportunities. The numbers may have dropped, however, it seems that it has no effect on improving employment (possibly because of the unaccounted youth that are dropping out before getting to matric). It possibly begs the question of how we need to encourage entrepreneurship, which naturally increases job opportunities.

Nicholas Spaull, a primary education researcher at Stellenbosch University says that “students are pushed through the system until grade 10, furthermore schools realise that if they push these kids through, they are not going to pass grade 12”. We never hear about the individuals that never made it passed? Grade 10, 11 or 12.

Digital Marketing, an industry filled with young individuals ready to make their mark - consider the amount of data the world is consuming and businesses are producing. There is no doubt that it's a growing field, but how does one offer an opportunity to diversify this field? I feel that there’s a mismatch somewhere along the lines of receiving your education and using it in order to find a job. Surely the solution lies in there? I’ve noticed the skills youth have received do not equip them (even at University level) with the skill or practical level of knowledge to be ready for their digital job. Are universities too bureaucratic to adapt to the quickly changing digital trends??

With my involvement in a youth / educational NGO, GROW Academy, my eyes have been opened by the determined youth South Africa has, who haven't had the opportunity to receive post matric education, eager to get into the workplace. Also, I’m hearing great case studies coming out of Digify, which is based in Johannesburg.

But a better education system does not mean better outcomes (considering we’re ranking 148th out of 148 countries for our Math and Science) - basic literacy is a major problem, which unfortunately affects all industries. Education with a purpose as well as a calculated outcome. Attainable outcomes are what we need. Everybody wants work experience, but nobody is willing to hire someone (oh the irony). Perhaps the youth need to show more commitment and consider self learning? In digital it's possible. Again, think about websites like and consider a career in freelancing. You don't have to work for a boss. Put yourself out there and be prepared to make mistakes. That's how you learn.

The fact of the matter is, by allowing our youth to work (and study) while gaining work experience is crucial. We are attempting to line up a handful of students with digital marketing agencies which offer internships to get their foot in the door and at least start their career path. These are passionate youth, they are willing and more than able - they aim to work for what they want to achieve and understand (which many youth don’t) everything won’t necessarily be handed to them. As South Africans, we dream and point fingers too much, It’s time to start taking action and focusing on the matter at hand, let’s get our youth on the right track. Lets consider digital artisans...

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