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Youth is where the heart is

Article written by Marie-Louise Smith (ActionCOACH Business Coach, Bloemfontein)

Youth. How is the word and concept of youth defined? I loved the United Nations definition: Youth is best understood as a period of transition from the dependence of childhood to adulthood’s independence. Basically, it is when a person leaves compulsory education and starts finding their first job. If we had to define youth by age, it would be the group between 15 – 24 years of age.

I have a lot of empathy for this group. This group needs to go and spread their wings and reach their potential, after a very trying few years during and post COVID. Personally, I think that they have skipped a few crucial building blocks to be purposefully directed for their future.

In South Africa, this group faces challenges in the work sector, as the unemployment rate is currently soaring at more or less 35%. Now, if we look at the South African education system, we can only conclude that the system failed and is failing youth dismally. The learning curriculum is at best, outdated and definitely not modeled to impart any skills to young and impressionable individuals to be employable.

What other options are there?

Well, you could go and study for a degree, which could take between 3 – 6 years. Unfortunately, this option does not guarantee you a job or a career and leaves a big portion of graduates disillusioned, as the day-to-day reality of the field that they have so diligently studied in, is a far cry from what they thought it would be like in the real world.

In short, we are not preparing our youth with skills that truly empower them to live a full, mentally- and emotionally-enabled life, with purpose, so that they can contribute fully to society and reach their potential after school.

My experience with my own two teenage daughters is that they are willing to start contributing and to start gaining skills, but it looks a lot different from how I grew up and looks different from what today’s middle-aged parents mostly, have envisioned for their offspring.Mainstream schooling only really measures an individual’s ability to memorize subject material and the ability to give that through precisely, in a written format. If you can do that, then you are an academic achiever. Does this however prepare you for the ever-changing, fast-paced and target-driven real world, where you need to work with people? Does this type of schooling prepare you to be resilient and solution-driven? Does this type of schooling prepare you to be emotionally intelligent and to be aware of life’s impact on your mental health? Sadly, the answer is a resounding NO!

Most parents will have to take a long and hard look at the role that they play in guiding their children from a young age to be fully fulfilled, happy, fully functioning, and contributing individuals.

Guidance in finding an age-appropriate job, at a young age, is crucial. A job that teaches young individuals’ skills in learning how to work with people. A job that teaches young people skills in being able to be solution-driven and being able to think on your feet. A job that teaches skills that will help you to be resilient. A job that helps young people in learning to be disciplined and dependable. 

Once these skills have been taught and learned from a young age, we need to help our children to dream and to go further and find something that they are passionate about so that they can build into a self-employed job and even, later on, build a business from this. This however needs us as parents to help our children build a network and we need to guide them to get them to the right type of individuals that can assist with building not only skills, but also character. We need to mentor and find great mentors in a more informal, structured way, to help, guide and assist our youth.

Only then will the youth in this country be free to truly choose to be happy.

“When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me that I didn’t understand the assignment and I told them they didn’t understand life.” – John Lennon

ActionCOACH is a proud Partner of the NSBC