Skills the key to entrepreneurship – Brand South Africa

Young South Africans need to take up the challenge of entrepreneurship to help boost growth in the country, Brand South Africa’s Leigh-Gail Petersen told students at the Wits University Student Entrepreneurship Week. But they can only do it if we give them the necessary skills.

Many of the skills entrepreneurs need for success can only be learned outside the classroom, in real-life, practical work experience. (Image: Brand South Africa)
Many of the skills entrepreneurs need for success can only be learned outside the classroom, in real-life, practical work experience. (Image: Brand South Africa)

Brand South Africa reporter

What skills can youth be taught to improve their appetite for entrepreneurship? This was one of the questions raised by Brand South Africa’s Leigh-Gail Petersen at Student Entrepreneurship Week, an initiative raise awareness of entrepreneurship as a career.

The event, held at Wits University in Johannesburg, included a variety of presentations, workshops, discussions and displays, with the aim of making entrepreneurship accessible to university students – and fun.

The week was a Department of Higher Education and Training initiative to boost entrepreneurship among future graduates, which would ultimately help combat unemployment, foster sustainable economic growth and develop an entrepreneurial economy.

“South Africa is considered a leader in sub-Saharan Africa when it comes to doing business,” Petersen told students attending the Brand South Africa seminar at the event. “However, its weakest link is in terms of its entrepreneurial start-up skills.”

Youth projects

Petersen took the students through the work of Brand South Africa in building the country’s reputation so as to strengthen its global competitiveness and encourage and support active citizenship among its people. She highlighted some of the organisation’s numerous initiatives, specifically those focused on youth and entrepreneurship, to achieve these goals. These include Play Your Part, as well  projects such as the Sunday Times Generation Next.

Generation Next, Petersen told the students, was a youth marketing conference, interactive showcase and awards ceremony that provides great insight and loads of inspiration for effective youth engagement strategies. The event is for brand, marketing, media and advertising professionals in the youth marketing space who hope to better understand consumption habits, trends and much more.

Petersen also highlighted the extensive research conducted by Brand South Africa – at home, in the rest of Africa and globally – into perceptions of the country, its reputation and its nation brand.

Focused approach

“What skills can the youth be taught, in order to improve their appetite for entrepreneurship?” Petersen asked students at seminar. She pointed to the results of Statistics South Africa’s recently released Labour Force Survey for the first quarter of 2017, which showed that the unemployment rate among youth (aged 15 to 34 years) had increased to 38.6%.

“The stark increase in unemployment is testament to the lack of start-up skills in the country, and calls for an even more focused approach to building an entrepreneurial philosophy not only after school, but to be built in from basic education level,” Petersen said.

“It is becoming increasingly important for entrepreneurship to be built into educational curricula, and related skills to be a key educational focus point for the younger generation.”

Petersen also cited the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor South Africa report for 2016- 2017, which shows that only 38% of South Africans believe that they have the capabilities required to start  their own business. The report also reveals that only 35% of South Africans recognise entrepreneurial opportunities in and around their communities.

Start-ups and the youth

“Youth are generally associated with start-up businesses,” Petersen pointed out. For this reason, she said, “we need to encourage the roll-out of more start-up businesses in the economy, we need to equip the youth with the necessary skills to build these small to medium enterprises that are critical in our economy”.

South Africa’s primary and secondary education system does include some basic entrepreneurial training, Petersen said, but “the overall reach of this type of education needs to expand much further”.

“There are skills that entrepreneurs require to be successful, and many of these can only be learned outside of the classroom, through real-life, practical work experience.

“However, there are critical skills that should be expanded on at an early stage, to  encourage more young people to explore entrepreneurial career paths after school.”

These skills, Petersen said, include the know-how on the practicalities of starting a business, such as writing business plans, conducting market research, how to register and license a business, labour law, how to develop a network, pitching a business to investors and when and how to scale a business – to name just a few.

Expanding opportunities

“While one of the most valuable learning experiences for aspiring entrepreneurs is to  learn through internships, there is much room within the local economy to provide more educational opportunities for the youth, especially where entrepreneurship is concerned,” Petersen said.

“Thus, as Brand South Africa and through our various platforms with stakeholders, we encourage both public and private sector, to look toward their local communities and consider hosting practical entrepreneurial and start-up workshops and seminars – aimed specifically at youth with a keen interest in starting their own businesses.

“It is of utmost importance that youth understand the critical role entrepreneurs play in building a sustainable economic future,” Petersen said.

“We are fast losing pace with other entrepreneurial-driven economies such as Turkey, who encourage youth from as young as 12 to start their own businesses. Both globally and on the African continent, from a jobs perspective, we urgently need to correct this  drive.

“We can only expect more entrepreneurs to take up this challenge, if we are adequately  equipping them with the necessary skills to do so.”

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