Each year the Jobs Fund hosts a Knowledge Exchange where delegates participate in knowledge sharing discussions on topical issues that pertain to the design, implementation and scaling up of job creation initiatives and approaches. This year, we focused on practical solutions towards harnessing the potential of South Africa’s demographic dividend and by so doing securing employment for millions of our young workforce.

The day kicked off with a rousing presentation from S’onqoba Vuba, co-founder and Managing Director of Perpetu8 as well as a member of the Presidential Commission on the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). Vuba spoke about the origins of the 4IR, its distinctive characteristics, its presence in the continent, how it has enbled exponential, as opposed to linear growth amongst businesses and spoke about the types of skills that will be required in the future.

She started off by clarifying the misnomer about the 4IR being the "digital revolution". She pointed out that the 4IR is characterised by the convergence of the physical environment, cybernetics, and the biomedical worlds. She argued that the 4IR is in fact propelled, not by technology per se, but by human evolution itself. As human beings push the boundaries of what they are capable of so do we, in turn, expand the capabilities of tools such as technology.

Vuba presented examples of the presence of the 4IR in Africa, which included examples of the Semi-Automated Maison (SAM) machine that lays bricks 6 times faster than a human being and does not need tea breaks. The SAM was introduced recently in a building project in the Eastern Cape province, in South Africa. She also spoke about the company, Zipline that operates in Rwanda delivering lifesaving medical supplies using drones.

The increasing automation of tasks and the growing connectedness of people through the 4IR has enabled the emergence of exponential organisations whose growth trajectory does not take decades but a few years. These exponential organisations are characterised by leanness and agility compared to traditional linear companies. Exponential organisations’ growth tends to be so quick and impressive that they are often said to have “come out of nowhere” by competitors and commentators.

As computers are able to do a lot mor and have greater computing power, they leave us with the ability to be more human than before. This then means that the type of skills required in the age of the 4IR are markedly different. These skills are curiously not content skills nor are they tech biased. Of the top eight identified skills of the future, the number eighth skill is Tech Savvy. Higher ranking skills relate to social intelligence, diversity, horizon scanning, storytelling and creativity.

Following this thought-provoking talk, delegates debated the following themes: • Creating an Integrated Approach for Youth Development: Identifying a basic package of support for youth • Township Economies: Catalysing thriving pockets of innovation that are youth-inclusive • Securing Youth Talent: Identifying and managing talent at scale • Youth Entrepreneurship: Opportunities for scale • Innovative Funding for Job Creation: Designing funding models for high-risk investments

While South Africa’s policy framework recognises the need to address issues affecting the youth, such as poverty and unemployment, there is no integrated approach to identify those opportunities where multifaceted and tailored support can be offered to youth. Within this context, Arianne De Lannoy shared insights on the work being done by a research consortium led by the Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit at the University of Cape Town which is building on research evidence regarding youth support gathered by the various partners (including the Jobs Fund) over the past five years. This team is designing a Basic Package of Support (BPS) for South Africa’s young people aged 15 to 24 years who are not in employment, education or training (NEET). The BPS seeks to help youth to (re)connect to education or the labour market in order to better their future prospect of securing work or creating opportunities for themselves.

The road to youth employment is not a linear, one-size-fits-all process. There are multiple pathways that would transition youth into the world of work. Given the volume of youth who are looking for work, an efficient and systematic approach is required in order to screen and assess young people for the appropriate pathway in their transition journey.

To achieve both scale and systemic change requires the collaboration of multiple actors across different sectors and value chains. Collaboration is essential to inclusive employment creation that is sustainable and scalable for youth.

Delegates discussing the identification and management of talent at scale expressed a need for better alignment of schooling pathways to real-world work-seeker pathways in order to better prepare youth for their journeys. The education system needs to reflect the fact that the journey to employment is not linear.

In securing youth talent there needs to be a more conducive environment where entrepreneurship becomes a viable alternative for young people. This, however, needs to be tempered with a recognition that necessity driven entrepreneurship is not as sustainable as demand-driven entrepreneurship. South Africa needs to rethink what constitutes a job and work experience (learnerships are currently not) as well as rethink the content for these to ensure quality. The nature of jobs is shifting from permanent to more short-term jobs so companies should possibly think about job sharing.

The "gig economy" (short-term jobs secured by independent, freelance workers) has been identified as the future of work in Africa and particularly as a way to absorb youth into employment. According to Vuba, 10% of the world’s freelancers are in Africa.

Feedback from two Jobs Fund Partners (Ashburton and Harambee) in the Innovative Funding for Job Creation session was that the Jobs Fund is an example of a capable state in terms of partnering with the private sector in a flexible way that ensures that an enabling environment is established to foster partnerships which co-fund solutions to identified market problems that inhibit job creation by various market participants.

A full report of the key outcomes of the Knowledge Exchange conference will be shared on the Jobs Fund’s website