• 31 July 2019
  • USB-ED
  • 4 min

How South African youth can boost economic development

It’s an astonishing forecast that by 2050, a quarter of the world will be African and 40% of the world’s under-18 population will live in Africa. Here, Margra Wevell, a 20-year-old graduate of USB-ED’s Young Minds Entrepreneurial Programme gives ways she believes South Africa should educate its young population to take full advantage of its demographic dividend in order to boost economic development. Here’s a hint… education should mimic the movie Divergent.

Wevell matriculated in a small town in Limpopo in 2017. She finished the Young Minds programme in 2018 and is now in her first year of a BCom in Industrial Psychology at Stellenbosch University. She believes having a youthful population has multiple advantages. These include more taxpayers, improved growth and a shift in how people perceive Africa. But these advantages hang on the proviso of education.

For Wevell, an improved education system looks like the Divergent movie – dividing young people into factions to be educated according to their strengths. “We need to adapt our education systems to enhance entrepreneurial qualities like business savvy and quick decision-making. 

We need to construct a faction system. Start with the essential skills like reading, writing and maths at level one, and stimulate the different types of learning styles. Instead of just theory, we need to get to know students. We need to help them find their identity through tools like personality tests, with strategies to improve on weak points. With this knowledge, we should divide students according to their strengths and passions and train them for the workplace accordingly.”

She adds that there needs to be a significant focus skill development and entrepreneurship, “Empowering means to make someone stronger and more confident. We need to start empowering children through their education and carry this culture through to the workplace. Fostering entrepreneurship means creating more entrepreneurs, which will increase the number of domestic suppliers we use and decrease our imports. With an entrepreneurial mindset, one can also start formulating better plans to use our resources and maximise economic and social benefits.”

DeWet Schoeman, Programme Director of Entrepreneurship at USB-ED, echoes the need for entrepreneurial skills development. “Young people will only find jobs if we can grow this economy. This economy will only grow if we have new businesses. It’s imperative our youth develop a new set of skills and an entrepreneurial mind-set. They need to be brave enough to try new things and be innovative. We need more focus on that innovation aspect.”

Schoeman says that on top of occupational skills, young people need to develop:

  • Personal mastery – development of character, ethics and emotional intelligence
  • An entrepreneurial mindset – the ability to spot gaps and take advantage of these
  • Business acumen – the knowledge of how to turn a start-up into something sustainable

He stresses that young people need experience. This is where there needs to be more intersection between the emerging and aging workforce. Both can learn from each other, so school curriculums should incorporate strategic plans focusing on mentorship and job shadowing opportunities.

He believes young people should be able to network and write business proposals fresh out of high school – that gives them an immediate edge. “In the open job market of the future, young people will be offering their skills to myriad companies simultaneously – or running their own ventures. This is why self-actualisation is so important.”

Wevell believes that having a growing young population will bring challenges. She suggests using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as a benchmark to determine what young people really need. Then we can plan around this to improve the availability of resources. We also need to match the needs of the economy with the skillsets required to catalyse maximum growth. That means forecasting the jobs of the future and shifting the education system to focus on instilling the right skills.

As author Veronica Roth said, “I’m not dauntless, I’m divergent. I am whatever I choose to be.” We’re living in a time of unprecedented opportunity where our greatest challenge and privilege is to help young people to become whatever they choose to be. It’s only by empowering our youth to be economically active that we can foster economic development. USB-ED’s entrepreneurial programme is a tried and tested way to turn young people into entrepreneurs who know how to build businesses around ideas that solve the collective challenges South Africa faces. This is the best way to cement their relevancy and ensure their sustained success.

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