Prevent the unemployed from becoming unemployable
Development is a protracted process. Perhaps it is more accurate to say it is a continuous process of which humanity does not, at its current point on the curve, know the final outcome. Or better, where we as a race find ourselves today with all our magnificent inventions of the past 500 years, does not provide any roadmap to discern where we shall be in another 100 years.
But that is a bit of a philosophical take on the process and hardly of any use to analyse the world’s current development problems. The fact with which we have to contend is that, as civilisation with all its inventions and conventions has proceeded, the growing of the cake has become extremely skewed. Some people advanced beyond all benchmarks while others remained stuck in the past. The result is a highly stratified world with pockets of prosperity surrounded by vast swathes of poverty.
The paradox is that the more civilisation advanced, the more numerous the poor became.
Fact is, poverty is a reality that affects the vast majority of people. And the industrious few who became rich must not delude themselves by thinking poverty will not eventually affect them as well. We are all in this global ship together, and as co-passengers in the same vessel, getting rid of poverty must be our most important combined goal.
Much has been said and printed about capacity or the lack of it. I see this mentioned at least once a week in a bouquet of regular as well as ad-hoc studies. Capacity building has become the operative word in the modern education and training framework. It is also the one endeavour which I find most frequently discussed in most reports.
But capacity building by implication, indicates lack of capacity. And in a regular annual report that was released this week, lack of capacity is cited by the majority of firms, as the number one constraint in doing business, and in growing the economy.
This immediately begs a whole bag of questions, all highlighting different aspects of capacity and why its absence poses a major threat, not only to future economic growth, but also to the entire social fabric. It is one of the more important underlying causes of unemployment, which draws attention to the fact that, from an analytical perspective, one must make a clear distinction between unemployed and unemployable.
In my mind, the first concept has more to do with micro-economic weakness, structural impediments, and other growth issues whereas the latter reflects poorly on our efforts to bring training and education to young people to ensure a more equitable dispensation through the contribution every individual makes to society. The ideal is that every person of a working age must be able to work and to shape his or her own life through that industry. As things stand, we are very far from that ideal.
If I were to break down our horrific unemployment statistics into degrees of unemployability, I am sure to step on many sensitive toes. I mean, is it not one of the basic modern precepts that we must all have equal opportunity. Yet, the sad reality is that so many people are unemployed because they are unemployable in a modern productive society. Sure, they are good to hold a gun and pull a trigger, but after that, when progress and prosperity become benchmarks, they are simply left behind. And in the majority of cases, their children follow unintentionally in that same groove.
It is only now, after a reconciliation of the enormous costs associated with education and training, that we realise we probably do not have sufficient resources to make the slightest dent in the fortunes of the older generations. The lack of an economic surplus means that our existing training capacity does not adequately provide for our current needs, let alone to correct historical imbalances, or make more provision for future training.
Since we cannot relive the past, there is only one solution. We must make the economy grow as fast as we possibly can, even aggressively and sometimes recklessly, and we must refine our system of statutory entitlements so that the surplus of the future makes a difference in the lives of the poor today. And we must realise one thing – that future started yesterday.