Better Positioning Youth to Gain Employment at SMMEs

Young people encounter challenges such as the lack of workplace skills when obtaining or securing employment from these enterprises.


By Gaby Ndongo and Mfanafuthi Bhara

Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMMEs) have “a general eagerness to hire young people” but there is “frustration with finding the ‘right’ candidates”, explains Youth Capital’s latest report, which explores the aspects needed for SMMEs to employ and retain young talent as well as the appropriate context to enable the growth of these businesses.

This report was based on three focus group discussions with 20 SMMEs in August. The discussions mapped out five key challenges that SMMEs encounter when employing young talent. An online survey was then created in accordance with these insights, filled by 55 representatives in September 2022 and provided responses aligned with the themes arising from the discussions. 

While the discussions were conducted in partnership with the Youth Employment Service (YES) and ONE Campaign, Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator distributed the survey to its network of SMMEs.

In detail, the report outlines the following challenges: mismatch in expectations between young people and employers, lack of workplace skills, information and administrative gaps, drive and attitude of young people, as well as scarcity of trade skills and experience.

Infographic by Gaby Ndongo. Reviewed by Anathi Nyadu and Jeremie Ndongo.

Mismatch in expectations. “[M]ost young people think that having a degree is an accomplishment on its own and not the starting point of their growth; based on [the former], they expect to progress quickly … young people don’t realise that career progression often means starting with entry-level jobs,” states the report.

Employers, on the other hand, assume that young talent possess an in-depth understanding of the working world and basic workplace skills. This is unrealistic as most require assistance to adhere to work etiquettes because the opportunity may be their first formal employment.

Lack of workplace skills. These include “written and verbal communication skills, and an understanding of reporting processes”. In addition, the report mentions “work ethic, problem-solving abilities, teamwork and being self-motivated” as well as possessing a “growth mindset and the eagerness to learn about the business”. They are coupled with the absence of work experience and contactable references. 

Some solutions to the lack of workplace skills are job shadowing, volunteering during school holidays and attending short-term internships, work-place learning or youth employment programmes such as YES. Those initiatives provide training and work experience that avails opportunity to cultivate technical and soft skills as one establishes professional relationships to use as contactable references.

Infographic by Gaby Ndongo. Reviewed by Anathi Nyadu and Jeremie Ndongo.

Information and administrative gaps. A large number of SMMEs do not have the internal capacity to effectively manage certain processes such as probation. To better position themselves, young people need awareness about basic principles of employment, including the processes related to probation periods, leave submission and performance reviews. It is however not the case in the current context. 

In relation to the administrative gap, existing labour laws, for example, do not allow employers to fire as a result of “an unsuccessful match”.

Drive and attitude. “The link between the ‘right’ attitude and a successful young hire was mentioned repeatedly by the participants. ‘Right’ implies finding a candidate with the eagerness to work hard, a passion for constantly learning new things in the field, a drive to work your way up the chain, and to be adaptable,” explains the report.

Despite such, some of the survey’s respondents acknowledged that young people possess a growth mindset and bring on board “ambitious, curious, and … fresh perspectives”, contributing to business growth.

Infographic by Gaby Ndongo. Reviewed by Anathi Nyadu and Jeremie Ndongo.

Scarcity of trade skills and experience. There is a lack of knowledge among young talent of the career paths in trade and artisanal work as well as their earning potential. Curriculum at Technical and Vocational Training colleges (TVETs), further, do not meet industry needs and on-the-job learning programmes at Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs) are “difficult to navigate”. 

According to estimations from a study by The Centre for Development and Enterprise, the country has around 670 000 to six million SMMEs, and they can be positioned as key players when establishing an inclusive employment market that accommodates young talent. This is the case if those businesses are provided with a conducive economic context, consisting of aspects such as accessible, government-led incentives.

The importance of SMMEs is particularly noticeable in Youth Capital’s report, which states: “Over 60% of all employed people are working in businesses with fewer than 50 employees; in addition, between 2016 and 2019, SMMEs created more than 1,800 jobs per day.” YC

Editing by Anathi Nyadu. Reviewed by Jeremie Ndongo. Feature image by Yingchou Han on Unsplash.

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