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Saturday, June 15, 2024

Empowering youth to reach their full potential through education

South African youth face a host of barriers that hinder them from accessing education. Access to quality and skilled teachers, overcrowding in classrooms, the absence of proper nutrition, lack of adequate transport and funding for tertiary studies and are just some of the many obstacles that make it challenging to access and get proper education. Yet access to education is a fundamental human right and the most important way to empower youth to reach their full potential.

These challenges, coupled with low economic growth and limited job opportunities available in the market, have contributed to what is one of South Africa’s intractable challenges: Youth unemployment.

The Quarterly Labour Force survey from the fourth quarter of 2021 shows that as many as 51.6% of the 7.9 million unemployed persons had education levels below matric. There are currently about 6.5 million unemployed youth (individuals aged between 16 and 35) and over 60% of those youth have a subminimum matric.

Maymoona Ismail, Head: Youth Development at Standard Bank South Africa, says that while education has an instrumental part to play in changing the youth unemployment picture, it cannot be solved by education and education alone. “For every 10 young people that enter the formal job market, we, as a country, are only able to create maximum three-and-a-half jobs for those individuals. Addressing access to education is critical, but we also must look at the low growth economy and number of jobs available in the market.”

She adds that there must be urgency around addressing these issues, which have been on the agenda for decades. “Interventions are urgently required. It is not sustainable to think that the education system will support some of the aspirations we have as Standard Bank, as a country, and continent at large.”

As Standard Bank accelerates the execution of its strategy to become future-ready and looks to fulfil its purpose of driving growth on the continent, it is focusing, through its dedicated Youth development and employment (YDE) unit, on a series of interventions to address some of the barriers to education that youth are facing and to educate and upskill young people. These include virtual internships, promoting micro-enterprises, learnerships and internships.

“If we focus on strengthening education, from early childhood development right through to tertiary level, the country will then be better positioned not only to use the skills in the country but to export skills, as our youth will be empowered to take up opportunities elsewhere in the world. Those individuals can then support their families back in South Africa, which is then ploughed back into the economy. This is something that India has done exceptionally well. When the country decided that IT skills would be a commodity for them to sell into the world, the entire country aligned to that. Mathematics and Coding programmes rolled out in schools, universities aligned their curricula to the need and the government facilitated the opportunities for individuals to work abroad.”

She says that Standard Bank is placing emphasis on empowering youth with skills that are required in the modern world. “This not only refers to hardcore Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) skills, but entrepreneurial skills and the ability to have empathy, to think creatively and problem solve. There is no kind of skill that is out of place in this new world. It is simply applied differently.”

Ismail says that government must prioritise its focus and leverage the private sector in this regard, from both a funding and skills development perspective. This is where successful public private partnerships become critical.

As it looks to fast-track the needs of young people in the country, Standard Bank is partnering with various stakeholders in both the public and private sector on initiatives that support the vision of the dedicated youth development and employment (YDE) unit of enabling access to inclusive quality education, job creation and supporting economic development in order to reduce inequality.

The YDE unit recently launched a youth empowerment programme in the Northern Cape, where 50 young women across the province are being given the opportunity to become skilled in the renewable energy ecosystem. In the next couple months, the bank will kick off an agricultural project, where it will empower youth with hydroponic and aquaponic skills.

The bank is also currently exploring an entrepreneurship opportunity in a township, which would involve setting up a worm farm in the area, in partnership with government, community stakeholders and NGOs, that could have many positive spin offs – from youth entrepreneurship development to environmental impact and a source of sustainable food supply for the community.

“Strategic partnerships are exceptionally important, especially where programmes in the township or rural environment are concerned. Certainly, we understand that as an organisation, we are not able to solve the issue of youth unemployment and empowerment on our own. It will ultimately involve an ecosystem of players with various capabilities to make a sustainable and lasting impact.”

In addition to the youth empowerment programmes, Standard Bank offers learnerships, bursaries and graduate programmes. The bank’s graduate programme has been in existence for 25 years and has seen just over 3 000 graduates being employed by the bank during this period. Meanwhile, just under 8 000 beneficiaries have been through the bank’s learnership and internship programmes that have been running for 15 years, 62% of whom were offered further employment opportunities post completing the programmes.

“Standard Bank is committed to facilitating access to higher education to open opportunities for young people. This ongoing investment enables our recipients to become economically active citizens of Africa and, to the extent possible, start their careers with Standard Bank,” Ismail concludes.

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