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Ayn Brown | 28 June 2023

As was evident during a recent panel discussion I was part of regarding scarce skills in the banking and finance industry at the EmpowaYouth Summit, getting a job, even an entry-level job, in a bank, is not easy, says the writer.

The only thing more alarming than South Africa’s 32.9% unemployment rate (the highest in the world) is that our youth unemployment rate is much higher, at 46.5%. This is despite the efforts made by the government, NGOs and the private sector to address the youth unemployment crisis through a multitude of upskilling, training and job creation initiatives.

On the other hand, many employers struggle to fill positions due to a shortage of critical skills. The issue is not straightforward, and neither is the solution.

The problem starts at school. Are our children being taught what they need to survive, let alone thrive, in the real world? What about many of the diplomas and degrees offered at a tertiary level? How many new graduates can walk into a job and apply what they have learnt? Very few. This is a systemic issue – curricula need to be transformed so that more learners acquire relevant skills that prepare them for employment in today’s world.

For example, as a young, fast-growing digital bank we have very specific needs when we’re hiring new talent, but the same can be said for banks generally – digital transformation is a continuous process of evolution across sectors.

Increasingly there is a need for data scientists, engineers, data analysts, cybersecurity specialists, among others. These are all roles that are rooted in maths and science, but as we know, the levels of maths and science literacy in South Africa are extremely low.

Technology is changing all the time and digital banking is all about being agile, adaptable and innovative. Besides strong technical skills, we need people who are adept at managing change and who can learn skills on the go. We look for problem-solvers who can think on their feet. The so-called ‘soft skills’ are also important. Being a call centre agent, for example, requires patience and empathy.

Through no fault of their own, there are not too many candidates who fit the bill. As was evident during a recent panel discussion I was part of regarding scarce skills in the banking and finance industry at the EmpowaYouth Summit, getting a job, even an entry-level job, in a bank, is not easy.

Regardless, there are several things that young people can do to impress potential employers and they don’t cost money.

If you have never worked before, job shadowing is a good way to gain exposure to the workplace. Working for free may sound crazy, but volunteering to work in an area that interests you is a good way of gaining experience that can eventually open doors.

Even if you are not earning money, you are demonstrating a willingness to learn, to start at the bottom. Importantly, it is a good way of catching the attention of a potential employer. Some employers may even pay a stipend or assist with travel costs.

Self-improvement is critical. There are plenty of free online short courses that can make you more well-rounded, regardless of your level of education. In fact, upskilling after tertiary education is a must in these rapidly changing times and it is something we pay attention to when looking at CVs.

Find out more about the industry you want to work in, take the free courses and acquire as much practical knowledge as you can. Think about what you need to do to make yourself more attractive to employers who see dozens of people just like you.

Getting the basics right, like ensuring you arrive for your interview on time, is key, as is taking the time to understand the organisation where you want to apply for a job – it is incredible how many people we interview who know very little about TymeBank.

There is no doubt that our youth need all the help they can get to acquire the skills that are sought after in today’s environment. The government and the private sector obviously have a responsibility to continue creating job opportunities for our young people.

And our educational institutions need to equip them with the technical and vocational skills to enhance their employment prospects. But the key is never to wait for someone else to find these opportunities for you – you need to hustle every day to get your foot in the door.

‘Disclaimer - The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the BEE CHAMBER’.


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