Opinionista Johann Redelinghuys 3 June 2013

Unemployment can be beaten

A carefully crafted system to regulate the supply and demand on the job market could have a major impact on unemployment. Thousands of people enter the job market annually, ill equipped and unqualified for the thousands of job vacancies that exist. We are not educating and training people for the needs of the market.

Recruiters everywhere, from private industry to the public service, will tell you that there is a shortage of skills and that they cannot find the “right people”. At the same time there are ever-growing protest marches of desperate unemployed people who are crying out and who are demanding that “someone must do something” to create jobs.

The present laissez-faire approach to career choice and skills development means that people, often operating in complete independence and isolation, choose what feels right and what they think will work for them. They could spend long years completing degrees and diplomas only to find, when it is all said and done, that there are no jobs and little opportunity for those qualifications. Unemployment of any kind is a sad problem. Unemployment of graduates is a national disaster. They are the ones who should be the brains and the talent that ought to drive the future economy and not be its wastage.

We must abandon the cock-eyed notion that all people leaving school should be able to decide for themselves what they want to do with their lives and head toward a career that will provide meaningful employment. Without some structure and proper guidance there will for many inevitably be disappointment and misdirection.

We underestimate the level of confusion and lack of information when young people are preparing to leave school and have to choose careers. At best they rely on guidance that will help them focus on their abilities as indicated by school performance and their interests at a particular time. At worst they are left to their own hit-and-miss devices. Of course there is some acknowledgement of what would enable them to make a decent living and what is seen to be a “hot” career choice, but there is little real knowledge of the ultimate job market or the future prospects of employment.

Forget about graduates for the moment. Think about the thousands of young people who finish school in the rural areas. All they can do is to come to the cities and walk the streets to find work. They have no skills to trade with and no understanding of how the job market really works.

There is an urgent need for an intervention at an earlier stage of a learner’s life. A career choice at the abrupt end of their schooling is not working. They need shepherding during their final school years and in their career deliberations. They must be able to work with potential employers and people who understand how the future job market will react to them.

Here is an idea. Imagine we could have a “careers exchange” which surveys potential employers throughout the country and limits the number of training and education “slots” in particular disciplines to what the market will need. There are only so many career opportunities countrywide for engineers or accountants or lawyers or nurses, or boilermakers or whatever in a particular year for projections into the future. We know how to do financial forecasting, so why would companies and institutions not know what their employment needs will be in the future and then sponsor and support the people who will be candidates for them in three or four years’ time? There is a thriving exchange for financial futures. Why don’t we have a “Future Careers Exchange”?

Take an example. On the careers exchange where there are thousands of future career opportunities listed by businesses throughout the country, an accounting practice, let’s say KPMG, lists 300 slots for young aspirant auditors who would qualify five or six years hence. A father who is assisting his 16-year-old son who is doing well in mathematics and accounting at school pays the registration fee and enrols the son through the careers exchange with KPMG. It then becomes his future employer and offers guidance and coaching while the son completes his schooling, his degree and his articles. He knows where he is going; the company knows what it is getting. There is no spillage.

Or another example. One of the construction companies, like Group Five or Murray & Roberts, knows that it will be employing 500 apprentices in the various mechanical electrical and civil disciplines five years from now. Learners at the grade 10 level are invited to apply for slots on the programme. The company makes its choice and the learners selected now have a surrogate career guide until they are qualified. They then have a job and a more secure future.

Some similar training programmes for professionals are already in place and have been working for many years. But what is being proposed is a more revolutionary and comprehensive approach of total registration of all future opportunities. If we are to address the chronic unemployment conundrum that exists in many countries we need to find a radical solution. A better regulated intersection between candidates and future employers might be it.

The Setas have been an encouraging attempt to address some of the issues in particular industry sectors, but we need a major initiative at an earlier stage in a learner’s life.

Imagine that companies get tax exemptions for registering and ultimately employing unskilled workers. Then imagine that a learner, say in the impoverished Eastern Cape is an applicant on the careers exchange for a position with a company in Port Elizabeth. The company now becomes a guide and career mentor for the learner, even though the ultimate goal may be no more than a forecourt assistant, or cashier at a supermarket.

The idea of a more regulated labour and careers exchange not only makes for a more sensible approach to the supply and demand of employees, it has the further benefit of side-lining the controversial labour brokers. It should definitely not be a state-run, Orwellian-type institution. It should be a fully private initiative like a stock exchange.

This kind of “careers exchange’ is by no means an idea that has been thought through or carefully constructed but it is a pebble in the pond to address an issue that is bedevilling us and much of the world and is gaining no proper foothold in the minds of the politicians or leading business thinkers.

Many thousands of the people who enter the job market every year do not have the education or skills to satisfy the needs of the market

What we have now is an untenable situation where there are thousands of vacancies, for example in the public service, while at the same time many thousands unemployed. DM

* The opinions expressed by Johann Redelinghuys are his personal opinions.

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