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Preparing our children for the world of work

As a mother of a twenty-one-year-old student, I find myself wondering (and sometimes worrying) whether she will be ready for the big world of work out there. Sure, it would be easy to calm my nerves with “She’s your daughter, she will be okay!” or “You taught her well, now let her go” pep talks.

Helpful as they are, these pep talks, I have to constantly remind myself of what is going on in the world right now.

In pre-pandemic times, the world of work was aflutter with generational theories and how we should adapt workplaces to accommodate these. Our focus was on how to accommodate everyone at the office and ensure a peaceful and productive working environment.

Post pandemic times, the focus has moved to how we manage hybrid workspaces and ensure that team cohesion and productivity still occur.

We do, however, remain with a generational gap that we have to bridge and, at the same time, manage to ensure a cohesive workplace

Patrice Cromwell refers to oppor­tu­ni­ty path­ways and sup­port­ive on-ramps to be created for young people to gain entry into the workplace.

How do we, in South Africa, create oppor­tu­ni­ty path­ways and supportive on-ramps for young people?

With our country’s unemployment rate officially at an all-time high, as well as the third-highest globally, this alone could be a staggering mountain to face for even the most optimistic young person hoping to enter the job market.

To design career pathways, we need to be able to eradicate unemployment. With various initiatives from government, corporates, and non-profit organisations, the issue is prioritised at all forums.

To create on-ramps to propel our youth from workplace bystander to workplace performer, we as employers must understand what we need to do for our youth to fit into the work environment.

A constant flow of communication

The sudden transition from school or a tertiary institute into the workplace may result in a considerable shock should there not be constant communication between the manager and the young worker.

Young people are used to knowing what is expected of them, when, where, and how. Therefore, it is crucial to ease them into the workplace by ensuring that the manager provides clear guidelines and structures of what is expected of the young worker. This should be followed up with clear and positive feedback to the young worker during and after completion of the task at hand. The communication flow should allow for questions and clarification from the young worker where they will not be ridiculed for asking questions

This positive communication cycle will not only create better output results. Still, it will build relationships between the young worker and manager. This will ensure a lower staff turnover rate and trust within the workplace.

Treating everyone the same

The youth are operating in a world where equality comes before anything else. This is no different to them in the workplace. Young people will choose not to work at companies that do not have clear equality and diversity policies and a culture to match these in place. They will not think twice to voice their opinions at school and university when they feel that the environment is not inclusive. This will continue into the workplace.

This equality also includes the fair distribution of work and if lecturers/teachers/managers live up to the company equity and diversity policies in what they do and say.

The South African government has come a long way in creating on-ramps for youth to enter the job market. However, the gap (in my opinion) from school leaver to workplace achiever is still evident.

I believe that more should be done at school level to prepare these young people for the workplace.

I recently had the privilege to conduct a series of sessions at a school in Johannesburg for the Grade tens. The teacher felt that these youngsters were, though academically well “nurtured”, a far stretch from being able to go into the big world of work.

The sessions covered CV preparation, how and where to apply for work and how to conduct yourself in an interview. The four-week course ended with a practical session with industry role-players interviewing the youngsters for their dream job.

When measuring the youngsters, I interviewed against five of the nine skills young people need for the future, as per an article I read at https://www.skillsyouneed.com/rhubarb/skills-young-people-need.html , I was pleasantly surprised by the outcomes

Digital literacy

The Grade tens were given examples of what a professional and “successful” CV look like. They were given three weeks to design their own. The CV had to be designed in line with their own dream job. They had to investigate these jobs, ensure they knew what to study and the experience required to fulfil this dream job. The students I interviewed each had their own unique CV layout, which was fresh and striking. Keeping in mind that they did this independently with the technology available to them, I rate them as 8/10 for digital literacy.

Problem Solving Skills

My general interviewing techniques will always include a problem-solving scenario related to the position I am interviewing for. I was hesitant in amping up the difficulty level of my “What would you do if..” questions to the Grade ten group,  but decided to keep it challenging yet solvable. Most of them were stunned at the question at first. Still, after thinking about the scenario, they could answer it with a creative solution. I would rate them 7/10 for problem-solving.

Youth entrepreneurship

There is a high level of entrepreneurship amongst most youth I know. Very seldom they would want to work for a corporate or; the corporate is seen as a stepping stone before starting their own business. This was also true for the youngsters of this project. Entrepreneurship could be scored as high as 9/10

Communication skills

Gone are the days of “speak when you are spoken to” and only being able to speak one language. Compared to twenty years ago, the communication skills of youngsters these days are excellent. They learn from social media (which not only has a negative influence) and model some of this behaviour when talking to older people. Though some were shy, my interviewees can be scored an 8/10 for communication skills.

Self-Knowledge and Emotional Intelligence

Generally, I would say self-knowledge and emotional intelligence is 8/10 for our youngsters. These kids grow up in an environment where they are encouraged to speak their minds and have their own opinions. I prepared a controversial question for one of them who wanted to study medicine. I thought that she would hesitate and give the answer I expected. She, however, surprised me by answering immediately with her own controversial yet honest answer. For once, I was blown away.

When seeing the impact these sessions had on the Grade tens, I think workplace readiness should become a standard subject at all schools in South Africa. I have seen more effort and thought going into the interviews from these learners than I have in some adults attending interviews later in their lives.

Schools / Universities and Colleges shouldn’t wait for the government to institute this as practice; they should approach any recruitment agency and discuss implementing sessions like these at their school or campus. This could be a win-win situation for the youngster, institution, and recruitment agency. I realised that, in the end, you as a parent cannot do the hard work for your child. You need to teach them what they need to know, support them and let them fly!

Article By: Juanita Swart

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