Whether it’s for PR purposes or commercially driven, we seem to have developed a love affair with the idea of labelling days on our calendar, writes Tess Sulaman, CEO of Rocketseed South Africa.

The old calendar system has worked for centuries, but recently we thought we’d add some significance to certain days. Closer inspection suggests that names like Father’s Day for instance (I am not picking on anyone, just came to mind first), seem to have been chosen completely arbitrarily.

However, some days carry more significance than others. Their significance cuts across race, culture, religion and education level. Youth Day, June 16, is a day that many South Africans will never forget – and the specific date carries a lot of significance.

Youth Day has now morphed into Youth Month, and quite frankly, given the challenges facing our youth, a Youth Year would still be in order.

But why is it that South Africans seem so content with our high youth unemployment rate? Those who wish to absolve themselves of any responsibility to lead will tell you that it is actually a global phenomenon.

I wonder if the youth in countries like South Korea, Singapore and many others with a deliberate, long-term strategy around harnessing youth potential are experiencing the same levels of youth disengagement and disenfranchisement?

In South Africa we are currently sitting with a figure of 600 000 unemployed graduates. These people clearly can think and are prepared to work hard, but there are no opportunities. Really?

There are many explanations for our high levels of youth unemployment – and I would like to venture another perspective.

Our education system does not seem to be reacting fast enough to the changing demands of the work environment. Social media has been around for 10 years, and yet only a handful of universities have the foresight to offer a digital marketing degree. It is still a short course that you do over three months and they send you on your way to a world were everything is essentially becoming digital.

Shyam Ranchod, associate director for digital advisory at Deloitte Digital, expressed some valid points in his article about the status of technology and how it is affecting business as well as education.

“The accelerated rate of innovation is creating new business models and jobs as fast as it is rendering the old ones redundant,” he says.

Rachond further explains that digital work is growing faster than it ever has before. This challenges traditional education institutions, which are not making provision for this trend in their new curricula. As a result, graduates are lagging “behind the innovation curve”.

By 2020 the rate of new knowledge creation will be so rapid that a person who graduates can expect their degree to be obsolete in just five years.

We have to start teaching our youth to think about employment in a completely different way. Employment should no longer be seen as a job in a big corporate that gives benefits, a corner office with a pot plant if you behave and a big Mercedes if you bring in enough new business.

We should be teaching our youth to be “technopreneurs”. Given the fact that technology makes connectivity, marketing and access to information that much easier, young people (or in fact, any South African) should have no trouble setting up their own shop, anywhere.

There is potential to create communities of youth who can collaborate to create loosely organised business structures where they can come together to execute a particular project; or where each individual with their own unique skills can be a supplier to various other businesses or technopreneurs.

This is taking self-employment to a whole new level. And you do not need a stall on corner Jorrissen Street to start. You simply need an idea and connectivity to the information highway.

A recent episode of Carte Blanche unpacked an example of the kind of business model I am talking about. A young man has developed a web-based tourism app that helps people to experience wildlife in a better way. The app tells you where a certain animal was recently spotted and you go to that place and hopefully the animal will still be there. He has a number of content contributors. While these contributors do not have to be paid, he chooses to give them a fee for their articles and posts.

The industrialists that our policymakers should be worried about creating are digital micro-industrialists. And there are potentially 600 000 of them. Imagine the number of ideas, business models and news services that could emerge from this collective brainpower if it is harnessed and channelled in the right direction.

In my opinion, most young people who go to university and get a degree do so at their own peril. You are better off learning to code or becoming a plumber.

I am not suggesting we do not need university graduates; we simply do not need the kinds of graduates we are producing and in the numbers we are producing them. Personally I would gladly trade 600 000 unemployed intellectuals for an equal number of plumbers or electricians any day of the week.

The moral of my story is, learn a skill. From there you have a better chance of transforming the skill into a business or some type of income-generating resource.

Come June 2017 we will have the same parades and noise and parties about how concerned we are about youth. Meanwhile the number of youth who are not gainfully employed will have grown, pushing us that much closer to a “SADC Spring”.