Alternative ways to seek education – think entrepreneurship

Despite the high demand placed on tertiary education in South Africa, only a small percentage of the 700 000 recent high school graduates are expected to be placed in institutions of higher learning as the new academic year begins. Largely owing to finances, or a lack of space to accommodate current and new students, many school leavers are unsure of how to further their education for future career paths or making a living.

Whilst the benefits of a formal tertiary education are well documented, it is not the only opportunity available to post-matriculants. Rather than adding to the statistics of the unemployed, students should think entrepreneurially about furthering their education, says Gugu Mjadu, spokesperson for the 2017 Entrepreneur of the Year® competition sponsored by Sanlam and BUSINESS/PARTNERS.

She says that similarly to becoming a successful entrepreneur, there is no single path to becoming a success in the workplace. “It doesn’t start and end with a degree – the determination to succeed, innovation and a passion for a chosen field also contribute to success. While in many instances a formal education is advantageous and encouraged, it does not guarantee a successful work career. For instance, some of the most successful entrepreneurs do not possess an educational qualification, but have succeeded in growing an established and thriving business.”

With the unemployment rate currently recorded at 27,1% (according to Stats SA’s Quarterly Labour Force Survey – Q3 2016), it is crucial that displaced students find other ways to learn and further themselves within their careers, even if it is for the short-to-medium term until they are able to further their education at a tertiary establishment.

“Tertiary institution applicants who were not accepted into those institutions should use this time as an opportunity to take their education into their own hands by seeking mentorship and exploring how to learn new, hands-on skills from an established business owner in their chosen field. This way students will gain not only knowledge, but valuable hands-on experience, which can prove to be invaluable when starting their chosen careers later on,” says Mjadu.

With the 38,2% of South Africans between the ages of 15 and 34 reportedly unemployed during the third quarter of 2016, the private sector and entrepreneurs have the opportunity and responsibility to proactively and positively contribute towards the growth of the local economy by providing practical learning opportunities to the youth.

Mjadu explains that this approach will not only assist in job creation, but the hiring of interns can also be beneficial for businesses, especially entrepreneurial businesses. “Interns can bring fresh ideas to the table, and in order to give them the most valuable experience, they can work across various departments to find their niche.”

Mjadu says that youth considering this option should find the right match to ensure the best learning outcomes. “Firstly, young individuals should contemplate the choice of entrepreneur to shadow. It is important to carefully assess who to approach to shadow or learn from, what you would like to learn from them and why, as well as what to offer the entrepreneur in return. Applicants should make sure their qualities and skills match that of the company in order to motivate why they are fit for the position.

Secondly, the youth need to be persistent. Most entrepreneurs who are willing to provide such learning opportunities are not necessarily looking for qualified graduates – but enthusiastic, hard-working and passionate candidates.

She adds: “Being an intern is much like being an entrepreneur – you need to find the right person to invest in your career. If you are hungry to learn and have a good work ethic, keep seeking out these opportunities.”

Mjadu concludes: “In order to assist in rectifying the youth unemployment crisis in South Africa, the youth should be encouraged to explore entrepreneurial workplace options that will upskill them. Likewise, business owners should create more opportunities for the youth in their businesses and support the younger generation of potential entrepreneurs and their entrepreneurial ventures.”