The gap between completing education and finding a job can be a chasm.

From college to career, there has always been a period where graduates find it hard to get into the jobs they've trained for because companies demand experience that they do not have but need.

This 'chicken and egg' situation can feel nearly impossible for those entering the job market. This is a challenge echoed in a recent Nelson Mandela Foundation conversation that asked how companies and individuals can overcome the youth unemployment gap of 63.9%.

Young people want to work. They want and need the opportunity to flex their fledgling skill sets and gain professional traction.

Organisations need skills. According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), more talent must be required to fill the gaps and keep the business on the right track. The WEF believes that the solution lies in investing in workers and allowing people to gain skills, reskill and upskill.

In short — breaking the barrier between education and employment is as simple and as complicated as providing young people with the opportunity to get practical experience.

And the responsibility for this lies firmly in the hands of the private sector. Companies must invest in programmes and opportunities that create a clear and direct route to long-term employment that empowers the youth. There has to be a dramatic shift away from the narrative of 'not experienced enough' towards 'this is how to get the experience'.

Internships, graduate programmes and apprenticeships offer a solid track for many, but they are usually reserved for those who have achieved the best results and the highest marks.

This only widens the gap for those whose skills don't lie in high percentages. This introduces the need to provide young people with opportunities that give them practical experience within a professional environment. It will allow them to gain crucial skills around working with others in real situations that ask them to flex their skills and grow as individuals.

This highlights another area that needs work — soft skills. Many graduates don't have any experience working with other people and managing multiple personality types, deadlines and high-pressure working environments. When they get a job, they often fall at the first social hurdle as they don't have the soft skills of collaboration, personal interaction and relationship-building.

Practical engagement for the youth must include the tools they need to build and maintain relationships to navigate the personal and political complexities of the average office and customer.

If companies can abseil into the chasm and hold the space for graduates, they will benefit immensely in the long term. The youth they bring into the business will be trained within that environment to gain an innate understanding of how the business works and the culture it upholds. It also significantly impacts the communities within which the youth live, the economy, and society as a whole.

Plus, this is key — investing in young job seekers and providing them with employment opportunities ensures business and societal sustainability. The older generation is easing out of the workplace, leaving giant gaps that must be filled, so if companies invest in subsequent generations, especially through mentorships, they will retain the knowledge while ensuring sustainable growth.

That said, while companies have a critical role in opening the space for the youth, young people need to build on their skill sets by investing in themselves and creating their opportunities.

It's been obvious for a very long time that a university degree isn't enough, so young people need to:
  • get part-time jobs
  • do volunteer work, and
  • find novel ways of enhancing their skill sets

This is so their CVS and skills look enticing to future employers.

While there is no clear-cut way to build the bridge and remove the gap between education and employment, it is clear that finding a path is critical to the success of the company and the country.

The private sector needs to build programmes, open up mentorships and create success pathways, as these will benefit everyone in the long term.

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