“Our country sorely needs young people with responsibility, commitment, dedication and the will to succeed. You and your colleagues throughout this country need to squarely face the challenges of building a new society. This will require strong hearts and a deep commitment, coupled with love and respect for all humanity.” – Nelson Mandela 

At a time in South Africa when young people are becoming desperate and others despondent at the limited employment opportunities available for them, now more than ever we need to begin to explore different avenues that will capacitate youth to have a stronger sense of self so that they may begin to take charge of their lives and direct their own destinies.

According to Stats SA (http://www.statssa.gov.za/?p=12121):

  • Unemployment in the first quarter of 2019 increased by 0,5 of a percentage point, bringing the rate to 27,6%;
  • The burden of unemployment is concentrated amongst the youth, aged 15 to 34 years, as they account for 63,4% of the total number of unemployed persons. Almost four in every ten young people in the labour force do not have a job;
  • Just under 30% of the youth have jobs and about half of them (48,8%) participate in the labour market. 

Work vs. Employment

I recently heard an interesting analogy between ‘work’ and a ‘job’ that has changed my view somewhat significantly. It was shared that ‘work’ is what you do as an expression of your gifts and talents in creating and bringing value to the world. Whereas a ‘job’ is what you do to earn a living by doing what someone hires you to do. As much as your ‘work’ can become your ‘job’, meaning you can earn a living from it, the reverse seldom holds true.

I’m not in any way attempting to trivialise the need for people to gain employment, however I am aiming to introduce a different perspective on the matter that could see us begin to approach the challenge from a different vantage point. One that focuses more on exploring one’s unique talents in order to bring value to the world as opposed to frantically searching for employment per se. We see companies across sectors downsizing and the job market shrinking significantly. How do we remain relevant in these times of great transition? I see this as a time of great opportunity.

Work experience vs. Furthering education

I finished my matric at 17 and, after the relief of completing 12 years of schooling to prepare for the ‘real world’; it fast became one of the most depressing times in my life. I had four months before varsity began so I tried to be proactive and productive with my time, and attempted to get my first job in the gap of being a free agent.

Selling myself to prospective employers in retail, where I thought should be the simplest industry to get a foot in the door, was painful. I was told that I should rather focus on continuing my education given my non-existent experience. Yet after completing my undergraduate studies, I experienced the very same challenge in the reverse where I was now penalised for not having work experience and therefore fell short once again. A chicken and egg situation, that was beyond discouraging.

My question almost two decades later still rings true, “How does our society expect young people to gain experience unless we are given the opportunity, regardless of education level and past experience?” Who is willing to believe and invest in us?

Developing Skills for Self Exploration

The President’s Award for Youth Empowerment, a non-profit organisation that has been leading youth achievement across South Africa since 1983, poses an interesting approach and solution. They create opportunities for young people, between 14 and 24, to develop character, discover their purpose and determine their future in contributing towards nation building. 

Their mission is quite simply to empower young people by providing a balanced, non-competitive framework for self-development that will increase their self-esteem and enhance their capacity to achieve, thereby enabling them to become responsible active citizens within their communities. The Programme provides a framework for non-formal education and has set guiding principles with proven outcomes for participants to complete. 

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The President’s Award creates experiential learning to help young people discover their talents and brings together practical experiences and life skills that motivate participants to engage with their communities. To begin the Programme, each participant reflects upon their interests, abilities and ambitions as they set themselves challenges to complete. 

The participants are then teamed with adult Volunteer Award Leaders as they begin with their award journey. More than 600 adult volunteers across the country are actively involved in mentoring these exceptional young people that have enrolled to be on the TPA Programme on their own accord. There are three progressive levels – bronze, silver and gold – including five sections to be completed over specified amounts of time and within minimum requirements per level, including:

  • Service
  • Skills
  • Physical Recreation
  • Adventurous Journey
  • Residential Project

Diversity in Development of Youth

The impact and effect of this programme is measurable to those who have completed it regardless of background and social standing. I honestly wish the 17-year-old Phindile would’ve had access to this progressive and holistic programme. Who knows where I’d be today? I have no doubt in my mind that this network and affiliation would have cut my learning curve significantly and saved me much time and grief spent questioning my unique talents and life path considerably. Two young people who have gone through the programme had this to share: 

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These are just two products of the programme, where there are many more intriguing and very touching stories that I’ve encountered over the past year of engaging with the organisation. The results of the caliber of youth developed really do speak for themselves. Designed to reward perseverance and inspire individual action through challenging but non-competitive activities; on completion of the process and achieving the Award, participants find that they have developed many skills, behaviours and attitudes that equip them to succeed in life, work and society.

“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” Ugandan Proverb

I believe we need to begin to ask ourselves what kind and quality of young people we want to realise in our nation – those that studiously achieve academically in order to be the best employees or those who go out, driven by their sense of purpose and armed with an innate knowledge and confidence in their gifts, drive change in our country. I strongly believe that more acknowledgment and investment should be channeled towards interventions like these that produce visible results and absolute impact.  

It’s organisations like The President’s Award that need the help of ordinary citizens like you and I, as they cannot exist in isolation or reach the youth that require this programme through their own efforts and networks alone. Whether it’s through your company, church, family or other social groups, everyone is capable of playing a role in capacitating our young people to become valuable contributors of our South Africa. They need your support. Visit www.presidentsaward.co.za or call them on +27 (0) 87 330 1017 to ask them how.