Skills must be the focus in the township economy

24th April 2015 By: Sydney Majoko

The focus of government’s efforts to alleviate hardships has been on ‘jobs, jobs and more jobs’. It is hard to find fault with this strat- egy in the face of rampant unemployment, but some township folks have proved that the adage ‘give a man a fish and feed him for a day, teach him to fish and feed him for life’ always remains true.

Margaret Musweli is a Tembisa mother who has been unemployed for the past five years. Recently, petroleum giant BP has been revamping a service station in her neighbourhood. While experienced contractors go about their duties of building and construction, Margaret and other locals can be seen around the site with their hard hats and marked overalls.

“I did a safety course a few years ago and I’m putting it to use on this site,” Margaret says. She is quite aware that this ‘job opportunity’ is for the duration of the construction of this service station only and she will have to make other employment plans afterwards. But she is not dismayed – she looks forward to playing a role in whatever projects will come her way in the township economy.

Margaret and her team have placed themselves in a position where they can gain invaluable skills that they could not have attained through regular job hunting or educational institutions, skills that can be put into immediate use in other local projects.

This is but one story of leveraging job opportunities that already exist to pass skills on to the unemployed, thereby ensuring that they are left to ‘fish for themselves’.

The development of the township economy must bring with it a mind shift that stresses the development of the individual to play a role in an economy that cannot perpetually provide traditional employment. Government can, in partnership with the private sector, facilitate the development of skills that equip individuals to fend for themselves instead of offering jobs that do not impart life skills.

Government agencies like the Gauteng Enterprise Propeller should not only work on the point of being approached; rather, they should be transformed into centres that go out into the townships to identify business ventures that not only show the promise of success but demonstrate that they offer other members of the community opportunities to develop from mere job seekers to entrepreneurs themselves.

In the past, skills development was so formalised that recipients of skills would be given certi- ficates, but that led to the culture of “I have all these certificates but am unemployed”. The mind shift that must occur has to gear the township economy to produce self-sufficient entrepreneurs who will not wait for a formal job.

Rex Mangwane used to work for a national pizza franchise. While employed, he realised that “there is nothing to making pizza” except the existence of an oven – the rest is just ingredients. When unemployment finally arrived at his doorstep, he had no doubt that what he wanted was to make his own pizza. And he now runs his own Pizza Café from home. Rex did not receive a certificate from his previous employers but skills that he can rely on for life.

There are many start-up businesses in the township economy that need support other than capital, and that support has to be hands-on. Take the building materials industry, for instance – there is a growing glass retailing industry that provides glass at the same prices as or lower than industrial suppliers. What a start-up like that requires are marketing skills and customer-retaining techniques.

Instead of government directly creating jobs for four or five individuals, its economic growth agencies can be empowered to hunt down hidden ‘success’ within the township economy and provide them with skills that will not only make a success of the business, but also ensure that each employee of that business can walk away from that job confident enough that they have the skills to start their own.

Government agencies must be tasked with ‘sourcing’ ways of integrating private company projects and initiatives in the townships with the need for skills that exists. The ‘jobs, jobs and more jobs’ mantra should perhaps change to ‘skills, skills and more skills’ to better serve the township economy.