Chumisa Ndlazi says:
As a young professional, I have been fortunate enough to have had access to growth and development opportunities. In fact, all that I have learnt on a personal, leadership and career level, I owe to the people and institutions of the Eastern Cape. Be that as it may, my learnt growth hasn’t come without challenges, which I would imagine are similar to all other young professionals in and around the province.
However, I must sincerely express, opportunities I have acquired have been graced somewhat by an element of luck and being ready when the opportunities presented themselves to me. In my short stint in the book of life, I’ve had the pleasure of engaging with some of the sharpest minds who equally deserved access to opportunities as I did, but due to circumstances out of their control, they have had the displeasure of being thrown in a pit, due to life’s unsavory obstacles, i.e. lack of access to funding, lack of employment opportunities despite their earned qualifications.
A study done by Statics South Africa (SA) during the period of 2008 – 2015 shows that 40, 1% of young people between the ages of 15-35 in the Eastern Cape struggle to find employment while others are simply discouraged job-seekers. Now of course, there are a number of reasons attributed to this unemployment rate among young people however, one of the key issues which is often overlooked when the challenge of unemployment is being discussed is access to information.
Prof Darelle van Greunen in a study titled: ICT as an enabler of Socio-Economic Development indicates that the use of Information, Communications and Technology (ICT) has the potential to positively impact the triple challenge of poverty, inequality and unemployment. In addition, he adds that through ICT, producers and small entrepreneurs will have access to market information, job opportunities, business and technical skills and banking services – which are key elements that contribute to a conducive socio-economic landscape.
In retrospect, my years spent at a residence which had an uncapped Wi-Fi service, my years spent in a household where I could access a car anytime I needed to go to the internet café and my decision to leave home after graduating to stay with a friend who fortunately stayed in a complex with an uncapped Wi-Fi service were all crucial elements that allowed me access to opportunities.
But, this bit of privilege does not exempt me from my reality which is, I come from a small community where internet cafés, libraries, Wi-Fi spots, information skills development centers are nowhere in sight and professional development networking seminars are hard to come by.
As a result, the reality of many of my peers back home is as follows: catch two – three taxi’s (back forth) to access the nearest internet café to either submit applications or job hunt, pay up to R15- R30 to thoroughly surf the net for jobs or bursary opportunities, pay an additional amount to print and post Z83 forms; etc.
So essentially, the process of accessing information and opportunities is not only strenuous but very costly for someone living in the townships, more so for those in rural areas or for someone who simply does not have access to transport or Wi-Fi. Arguably, one could say, but nowadays you can access the internet in the comfort of your own home through your mobile phone, which is absolutely true. However, data does not come cheap, 100MB worth of data if used sparingly, could last you one to two days. If one is to use it for job hunting or searching for skills development opportunities, your 100MB worth of data will be non-existent in an hour or two.
Therefore, if lack of access to ICT infrastructure in communities is the difference between a young person accessing or missing out on an opportunity then, alternative supporting strategies need to be implemented while all relevant role players work on a plan to make ICT services accessible to all.
In my view, access to information is normally the litmus test between one fully acquiring their true potential or faltering as a result of not having access to critical information.
Access to information could also play a pivotal role in galvanizing a community to proactively work towards dispelling the pessimistic narrative which normally plagues the Eastern Cape as a “valley of dry bones.”
Having to rid the province of such a stigma requires that there be concomitant steps undertaken to dispel such a notion by both the public and private sector. I encounter, on too many occasions brilliant young minds leaving the Eastern Cape because of sheer perception and sometimes lived experiences due to lack of career growth and development opportunities.
So, the question is, how can both the public and private sector develop our communities so that access to information and educational platforms are not so hard to come by in the Eastern Cape Province?
I propose the following:
Developing strong stakeholder networks: building a network of opportunities at rural and urban areas for young people, especially young women to be able to access critical information that would empower them to make positive decisions on their lives. These sessions could be in a form of quarterly engagements by various captains of industries.
Establishing Community based Information Centre’s as a communication channel: Information, Skills and Development Centre’s in townships and rural areas should not be a foreign concept because these are the very communities that are in desperate need of such opportunities. I am often in awe of what the Coega Development Corporation (CDC) has been able to achieve through the Human Capital Solutions Centre. This centre is situated near a township (Motherwell) and is also able to provide labour desks where CDC projects are located. Furthermore, the centre is in close proximity of the taxi and bus route thus making it easily accessible. At the centre, people access all information related to CSI programmes, skills development and training opportunities and the Job Seekers Database. As a result, since inception, the CDC through this centre has been able to train 71 445 people. Therefore, if this approach has worked for the CDC, it is highly possible that the same approach could work in a communities plagued by unemployment and lack of opportunities.
Investing in innovative strategies to drive professional development of young people: To encourage personal growth and development among the youth, the stakeholder network mentioned in the first point must work together to engineer workshops and campaigns that will empower, inspire, and equip the youth of Eastern Cape with knowledge. At a youth dialogue session I attended, one of the key things outlined was the inability of young people to market themselves to potential employers. Therefore, if this is a widespread issue, then we ought to religiously create and invest in platforms that will provide the youth of this province with the knowledge and guidance required to compete in the market. It is through such platforms and various innovative strategies that young minds will be for the provinces economic boom.
Therefore, I am convinced now more than ever that, over and above being committed professionals, those of us that have managed to cross the barrier of unemployment have a greater responsibility to ensure that those that have not yet reached the promised land are afforded the same, if not better opportunities than what we have conjured.
The future of the Eastern Cape demands this of us!
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