The 2015/2016 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) report for South Africa shows an upsettingly low entrepreneurial involvement level among 18-to-24-year-olds, when compared to the average figure for Africa in the same age group. This is particularly alarming when considering the majority of South African school-leavers do not enter into tertiary education and therefore enter the work force during this period of their life .
With an unemployment rate that has just reached a 10-year high – at a time when almost half the population is under 25 – this low prevalence of youth entrepreneurial activity represents a gross waste of human resources and will most certainly have a negative impact on the country’s future growth prospects. Furthermore, the social implications of long-term unemployment among the youth is significant and could potentially lead to an increased incidence of crime and political disruption.
While the challenge of unemployment among the South African youth is a complex issue, to which there is no one simple solution, increasing the involvement of young individuals in business could contribute to the development of entrepreneurial skills and allow young people an opportunity to participate in the economy in a meaningful way. Whether or not they decide to pursue entrepreneurship in the long run, the experience will also help in developing non-cognitive skills, such as opportunity recognition, innovation and critical thinking.
Here are three simple ways that business owners can help to drive youth entrepreneurship levels:
1. Create an enterprise culture that encourages entrepreneurial activity
In order to encourage entrepreneurial behaviour amongst the youth, South African business owners need to develop and encourage an enterprise culture that positively promotes entrepreneurship. Whether this is done by way of public addresses and seminars, or simply writing a monthly newsletter or blog, business owners should proactively share their entrepreneurial stories and encourage the cultural traits that foster entrepreneurship. These include the notion of acknowledging failure as an opportunity to learn and encouraging creativity and innovation.
2. Become a mentor
This can be done through a formally implemented internal mentorship programme or a more casual invitation to job-shadow for the day and experience the working environment. Either way, allowing a young person to experience the dignity of working, contributing and developing skills may give them the motivation necessary to start a business in the future. In return, a business owner will benefit from the talents, energy and ideas that young people generally bring to the labour force and may even learn something themselves.
3. Open up access to business facilities
One of the easiest and most beneficial ways that business owners can support young and budding entrepreneurs is by allowing them use of their office’s infrastructure, whether this be a desk to work at, access to electronic equipment after hours or use of a boardroom to present ideas to potential investors. While not requiring any effort or time on the part of the business owner, like a mentorship programme would, this inclusive initiative will still allow young people the opportunity to observe a thriving business environment and may spark an idea or passion to create something similar for themselves.
While entrepreneurship is not the sole solution to South Africa’s problem of youth unemployment, it can contribute in unleashing the economic potential of the country’s youth and improve their economic independence, possibly providing an avenue to new job opportunities and career growth.