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In a country with an unemployment rate of more than 25 percent, the ability to be entrepreneurial and employable is crucial.

In many countries where there is a high incidence of unemployment a high level of entrepreneurship tends to exist. This does not appear to be the case in South Africa.

According to the 2014 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) South Africa’s entrepreneurial activity is a quarter of other sub-Saharan African countries. Specifically, entrepreneurial activity as a percentage of all business dropped from 10.6 percent to 7 percent in recent times.

GEM listed an inadequately educated workforce, inefficient government bureaucracy, high levels of crime, corruption and onerous labour laws as major constraints to entrepreneurship.

According to GEM: “The main challenge is to provide jobs and/or opportunities for the youth where the estimated unemployment level is in excess of 60 percent. This can be assisted through education.”
It is thus clear that education has a pivotal role to play in South Africa’s entrepreneurial story.

Gearing education to provide entrepreneurs with the tools to succeed is a good place to start. After all, it is widely held that entrepreneurs hold the key to job creation and inclusive growth, which is what South Africa desperately needs.

And there are countries that are getting it right. According to UK-based business networking group Approved Index, Uganda, Botswana, Angola and Cameroon are some of the most entrepreneurial countries in the world.

Brazil also cracked a top spot, which is largely attributable to the fact that Brazil’s government encouraged entrepreneurial activity through providing tax breaks to firms that shared skills with entrepreneurs and colleges.

South Africa could learn a thing or two from these countries. For instance, government could facilitate entrepreneurship as a whole by funding entrepreneurial schemes, loosening up the regulatory environment and structuring taxes in such a way that they are more supportive of entrepreneurs. Incentive schemes which encourage the private sector to become involved could also be established.

Educational perspective

The private sector could be more supportive by engaging more with entrepreneurs, providing internships and funding bursaries. More needs to be done from an educational perspective too. Research conducted by GEM shows that a positive correlation between the success rate and sustainability of early-stage entrepreneurs and the level of education, especially entrepreneurial orientated education exists.

With this in mind, it is imperative that education be closely aligned with business and current trends. This can be challenging. The world is changing faster than before, and education institutions and authorities are struggling to develop, accredit and bring on-stream qualifications that are relevant before there is a change in trend. Education role-players need to find new ways to be more agile and adjust courses to meet market needs.

A balance also needs to be struck between having academics who just lecture and bringing in practitioners who know what is happening in the marketplace.

According to the 2012 Sub-Saharan African Regional Report on African Entrepreneurship, there are several other ways in which education could be entrepreneurially geared. These include, among others, expanding educational curricula to improve the capability as well as the motivation of students to engage in entrepreneurial activities, to develop skills as well as positive attitudes and then make this type of education a compulsory subject in primary and secondary schools.

The report adds that entrepreneurship as a life skill should be introduced into schools to foster problem-solving skills and self-confidence. These skills could be applied across a range of contexts such as managing family finances and working as an employee. The report also recommends driving entrepreneurship through colleges and universities across all qualifications.

Work readiness skills, infrastructure and digital tools also have a role to play.
Digital tools and platforms provide a huge scope for entrepreneurially orientated students (and people in general) to take advantage of distance or continuous learning. Being comfortable with platforms such as social media can be used to by entrepreneurs seeking low-cost barriers to marketing their product or service.

The upshot is that entrepreneurship-orientated education is multifaceted and cannot be viewed in isolation. It needs to be integrated into South Africa’s educational framework, thereby providing students with the tools and skills to become the entrepreneurs of the future.

* Mark Cunnington is an executive director of direct delivery at Pearson Education South Africa.

– Business Report