Africa beggingFor many years now, I have been arguing that (South) Africa does not have a job shortage. In a country with (officially) 27% unemployment, this has sometimes sounded a bit crazy. My point is simple – there are thousands of jobs available (just check the newspapers and websites for details!), but they are mainly for skilled workers and professionals. I also believe that there are many, many more jobs available in the SMME sector, but because of the restrictive labour laws in South Africa, small businesses and entrepreneurs are too scared to hire people, or to get people in on a speculative basis. This especially applies to what could be part-time or ad hoc-time arrangements.
This past fortnight has seen heightened strike activity, with labour unions marching against everything that moves, from government to municipalities, and big business to the tax system. If only these unions would do more to raise the average skill level of the workers they “represent”, rather than simply fighting for more money for less work, we might see a long term improvement in everybody’s living standards. The G8 summit last week focused on issues of poverty and Africa in particular, with extra aid money being promised and debts cancelled.
But, the ultimate key to solving Africa’s unemployment situation, pay inequality and poverty issues and raising living standards, is actually education. Real education that gives real life skills for real life jobs. There can be no doubt that Africa is going to go on a massive infrastructure development drive over the next century – it must happen. (China is currently in the midst of one – building infrastructure the size of Johannesburg city EVERY month for the next 15 years!!). Africa needs the skills to be able to do this. Yet, in South Africa, at least, the engineering fraternity (as an example) is rapdily getting old and grey, with the average age somewhere in the upper 40s! A concerted effort to connect with a new generation of talented young people is essential.
A report in today’s Mail and Guardian supports this thinking. The capital development required in SA between now and the Soccer World Cup of 2010 will require a lot of offshore outsourcing because we don’t have the jobs in country. Scandalous! Where are the professional associations? Where are the educators? Where is the government in its attempts to get people properly trained?
If you ask the wrong questions (How can we get workers to be paid more? What restrictive laws can we put in place to make sure employers don’t get rid of workers who are not performing? How do we create more jobs?) you will get the wrong answers every time. Sometimes you have to step back, and see your frameworks – and question them. And then look for better questions to help you find helpful solutions.

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