Youth start-ups: the shackles of education

The youth of South Africa does not start businesses at nearly the same rate as the youth in other African nations. Tope Toogun, founder of training and consulting firms ALS in Nigeria and Clarity Education in South Africa, states that “despite support from government and the private sector for entrepreneurs, the rate of uptake is low”. One might argue this point and really ask serious questions on what this support entails and whether it is sufficient or not. According to Toogun “there is a low conversion rate from training to small enterprises compared to peer economies and it is evident that a new approach is required to get entrepreneurship into the consciousness of South Africans, and to foster an environment that actively promotes entrepreneurship and effectively prepares individuals for entrepreneurial pursuits”. I cannot agree more. Wise words, especially given the fact that over the last five years entrepreneurship as a mode of employment has dropped by about three percent among youths and among women by six per cent.

Although great stuff is happening all over and we have many individuals and organisations doing their bid, I stand amazed by the lack of aligned and concerted effort. Many efforts also fit into Einstein’s definition of insanity – “doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results”. Our focus on youth development (Constitutionally defined as those individuals between 18-35) is fundamentally flawed, but yet we stick with it. We need to start earlier. Research clearly indicates that cultivating entrepreneurship in the young is vital, as children are born imaginative, energetic, and willing to take risks, but without entrepreneurial education, the enterprising spirit of children dramatically declines over time and is almost non-existent by the time they graduate from high school.

Our school system is inadequate and ill prepares children for the world of work and business and few teachers have the skills, time or resources to implement an extensive value-adding entrepreneurship programme. Yes, it was announced that South Africa’s unemployment rate for the third term of 2016 is at a 13 year high, but I can assure you this ….. given the age profile of our South African population (almost a third of our population is younger than 14), we need to take notice of a tsunami of unemployment that’s going to hit us if we don’t get our act together.