Tackling youth unemployment makes good business sense

By on July 30, 2014

Unemployment figures continue to be a prominent factor in the South African economy, with the rising number of unemployed youth being the key issue. According to Kate Robertson is the Global President of Havas Worldwide, combatting youth unemployment is good for business.

An alarming number of young people remain out of work in South Africa, and there is an urgency for CEOs and business leaders to address this, not simply to tackle the economic and social issues of youth unemployment, but to future proof their businesses.

Young people are behind many of the key innovations in global business. Any corporation that fails to introduce the next-generation of change makers into their leadership ranks risks falling behind, while the businesses being driven and founded by the under-30s will charge forward.

We know the young will always be the key influencers: Brands are falling over themselves to be featured on YouTubers’ vlogs, and young people’s spending power will eclipse that of boomers by 2018.

And why should this not translate to the workforce? Businesses who strive to keep up without young people at the heart of the business risk isolation from their customers. My industry, advertising, has changed beyond all recognition in the past few years and we would never keep up without our young talent – let alone stay ahead of the curve.

This younger, more socially responsible generation will also be essential in influencing major changes in business – namely that business will be a power for good.

In the most recent One Young World global consultation process, we found 73 percent of young people said businesses should prioritise sustainability over profit, 68 percent believe social media has made business more transparent, while just 10 percent agreed economic development is more important than environmental protection.

For savvy, profit-driven CEOs, this will be seen as a huge opportunity to gain a competitive advantage: Take Paul Polman’s sustainable living business model at Unilever, which is on track to achieve its target of halving the company’s environmental footprint and doubling profits by 2020.

Putting a halt to youth unemployment is certainly a challenge, but it doesn’t compare to the risks posed by not finding a solution.

Many employers will take a short-cut and blame education or a lack of talent, but the shortfall between what the school system delivers and what employers require will not be fixed by government reform.

Take the fact that 86 percent of young people believe business should play a more active role in education. They are seeking the support we can offer and if we aren’t finding what we need on the graduate market, we need to invest in and partner with education – to ensure graduates and school leavers are job ready.

The lambasting of young people for being inadequately prepared for the world of work is not always just: Just as many jobs that aren’t young people ready.

The reality is, young people today are looking for more. This is a generation looking to make a job, not just take one. Jobs which offer no opportunity to lead or to contribute to the business’s strategy will simply not appeal to them.

We must reconsider our approach to employing young people. It should not be seen as a service to prevent rises in unemployment, but as a way for employers to leap over the competition and drive their business forward in a sustainable way.

– Kate Robertson is the Global President of Havas Worldwide and the co-founder of One Young World.

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