Part 1: The Business, Youth, and Education confluence – where a new economic frontier emerges
The makeup of the global economic landscape is changing so drastically, so rapidly, and is increasingly hard to forecast from where the next economic dominance will emerge. The construct of economies and stock markets are changing, commodities that used to be valuable, such as mining commodities and oil are being surpassed by digital platforms (termed unicorns) in stock valuations and relevance to society. Technologies that hold the potential to massively disrupt the traditional sectors, such as batteries disrupting the cost of energy, are rearranging the order of importance of any commodity or business within the economics universe. A few themes have emerged in these rapid economic evolutions. Connection of the customers to the brand, its story, and in some instances what it stands for in society have been some of the key themes that build attraction to the brand, more than the technical sell of the product. Social media offers “free” marketing leverage for any product, reducing the need, impact, and potentially relevance of traditional forms of advertising. One new product offering could be disrupting its own sector, and at the same time disrupting the advertising industry, thus elevating the importance of corporate citizenry which in the past was a background scene in corporates. That’s how connected our ecosystem of business and society has become. Not only has the connectedness of our ecosystem been heightened, the angle from which the story of a business is told is also being altered.
Behind these massively transformative trends, is a growing and influential group of customers known as the millennials. In South Africa, millennials reportedly aged 20-34 in 2016, represent 14 million consumers or 27% of the South African population. This cluster of the population are known to be a major influence on brand successes and consumer patterns, and coincidentally, the same cluster has produced founders of some of the new businesses (platforms) that are disrupting the global economic constructs (Facebook-33yr old founder, Airbnb-both founders aged 36yrs).
On the other end, the same group and younger face an ever growing and worrying trend of not being employed. Even with some post school qualifications, the probabilities of employment are very narrow. It is estimated that close to half of the youth is unemployed in South Africa. SA is currently looking to create low skilled, high absorption, employment opportunities to create employment opportunities for the NEET (Not in Employment, Education or Training) cluster. This at the same time is competing with rapid advancements in technology, new businesses, and economic competitiveness from the new tech businesses. So, at best, SA’s youth may be employed but lag significantly behind. This means SA as an economy lags on its own development as it lags economic frontiers that are emerging. Unless the challenge of NEET is resolved, SA faces a risk of stagnation, and business faces a risk of an economically weaker economic base unless the youth is developed to create the economic base with high levels of disposable income.
So how about we shift the lens and look at the youth as a potential hub of innovation, and develop them accordingly? Would this open a new phenomenon of novel solutions relevant for solving SA’s many socio-economic problems, including unemployment, the need for affordable healthcare, and relevant quality and affordable education? It could be a very overwhelming challenge to tackle; concern about SA’s economic stagnation, international competitiveness, youth unemployment, and balance with creating new high-tech skills. To me it seems education is the critical bedrock for unlocking the economic power of the youth and SA widely. Providing relevant quality education holds many keys. Firstly, for the creation of new industries and new products to solve SA’s own challenges; access to quality and affordable education, access to quality and affordable healthcare, access to ICT infrastructure, and so on. And secondly to address the currently paralyzing growing number of young people that are not employed, not in education or in training. How giving attention to one target group could address so many of the challenges again demonstrates the increasingly interconnectedness of our systems in SA. And yet within education itself, there is so much overwhelm given the challenges well known to all about SA’s education system.
It starts with quality, affordable and relevant education…
Relevant education requires new education solutions to be introduced, rather than relying on the current qualifications. This in itself opens new business opportunities in the education sector. By investing in and supporting new systems and solutions for education that are truly relevant and affordable, business has greater potential to solve the NEET problem in SA, while creating its own future market of customers. This is a business imperative, as it creates a new economic cluster of consumers. At the same time, successfully developing the youth to have relevant skills to build new disruptive technologies would also be placing SA on the global map as one of the new attractive frontiers and attracting international investing (and growing SA’s economy). Perhaps this could even be a new form of advertising and marketing by business, rather than, or in addition to, the traditional advertising forms as it grows affinity to the brand by this very group.
Is it time for business to disrupt their business strategies, advertising strategies to build SA’s next economic frontier?
Maybe as business we need to pause, reflect, make a new type of investment, and recreate an ecosystem that builds new profit lines with a longer duration (developing the economic base of the youth), while reconstructing the economic strengths of SA.