Vijay Valla, Youth Development Director of the Department Small Business Development recently sat down to talk about the development of youth searching for success in their career-paths. He answered that the most important thing people involved in youth development and youth alike should realize, is that the issue isn’t just what you want to do, but how you are going to get there.
“I think people who work with young people are very concerned about the future. You need to understand that the only way to change the future, is to work with young people today.” Vijay has spent his entire life working with young people, including developing various enterprise creation programmes for young entrepreneurs. His passion for the youth evolved through realising that there was a dire need for development amongst young people in a world where life starts and ends with access to employment. “Work is the new frontier,” he explains, “a degree doesn’t necessarily mean employment anymore. I help young people not only figure out what it is they want to do with their life, but how they will get there.”Vijay explains that the term youth development stems from a psychological perspective on age-stage appropriate development that dictates that when a young life develops, it expresses itself in all of the socially defined norms for age-stage achievement. Put simply, this means that a person should complete certain stages at life at the correct age, for example to finish school or start a career path at the appropriate age. “What I am trying to put together is a series of interventions with young people which allowed them in a phased manner, to be trained in business, to develop a business plan and then also be mentored in running the business after securing finance.”
Education, a paradox:
“You have to differentiate between an education and a degree,” Vijay firmly emphasises, “People with an education go to the university of Hard Knocks, people with degrees go to academic institutions and get papers to say they have an education. People who go through life, actually have an education.” Vijay furthers that though both paths have their pros and cons, neither guarantees either success nor money. “If you can understand what people need and you can use your understanding to realise some commercial gain, then there is nothing stopping you from being rich.”
On the topic of being rich, however, Vijay has conflicting emotions as employment has evolved to become a definition of the self. “You have to be able to differentiate between what you do for a living and who you are as a person. Success isn’t money, it’s about who you are, what you are and what you feel will give your life a sense of accomplishment. Don’t define yourself by a qualification or a car.” This is also the exact reason why Vijay puts emphasis on career development in terms of the how and not only the what. “To be a successful entrepreneur you need to be motivated by more than money. It’s about the person you are, which is far greater than the success you’ll achieve in terms of money.”
Why youth development matters:
“Young people’s prospects must be linked to the infrastructural developmental programme of the country and national development plans. Infrastructure in this country is on its way to becoming world class. The country is becoming more connected from a virtual perspective as well as physical infrastructure and national identity.” Vijay firmly believes that as the youth are the country’s future, therefore more focus should be placed on them. He argues that young people are out in the job-market, willing to make a mark on the country and eager to participate meaningfully in the economy. The problem Vijay has encountered in this regard, however, is that needs and requirements of the job market have evolved over the past 20 years. For example, the job market has shrunk significantly as larger corporations shed their non-core activities. This means that as there are fewer job openings and large numbers of job seekers, companies go beyond just looking at prospective candidate’s qualifications, looking at whether they have appropriate experience or not. Also, young people’s needs have evolved from just social acceptance to a need for economic acceptance. Nowadays, there are no guarantees that the economy will accept you as a player or participant, the only way to guarantee your participation in the economy is to become self- employed and form your own business or enterprise as part of the economy. “When the so-called born-frees reach the business market, you’ll find a profound shift to the positive.” He firmly asserts however, that without work, a young person is deprived access to all the things which make life worth living, like independence, access to education, entertainment and travel.
South Africa and the business sector:
“I see a lot of pain ahead for South Africa. But when I look at the youth I feel excited.”Though South Africa’s economy is still travelling on a rocky path, Vijay is looking towards the future with a smile. “If you look at a person that is 20 years old and a country that is 20 years old, you are going to see a lot of parallels. Just as your average twenty-year-old is awkward about her/his identity, so too is our country, South Africa. I see South Africa as being a typical teenager still struggling to define its identity.” Vijay isn’t worried about the economy as is, he is extremely optimistic about its future which is represented through the youth. “These guys are going out there, prepared to accept jobs, carry boxes doing stuff, volunteering because they want to be gainfully occupied and get experience on their CVs. I look at all sectors of youth in this country, and I see people from the different population groups, communities and classes, are beginning to realize that there’s much more commonalities amongst them and between them, and slowly we are seeing the beginning of a national identity being formed.”Though he admits that South Africa still has a bit of growing up to do, he sees its potential in young people and through them the future is looking good, all they need is a bit of nurturing and care.
Vijay’s tips for entrepreneurs:
#1: Realise the value of work
No one becomes successful without physical or intellectual work, and a lot of it at that.
#2: Realise the value of experience
It’s not about just doing things for gain, you have to expose yourself as broadly as possible to fellow South Africans.
#3: Be critical
Think of your life in terms of the how, not just the what.
#4: Be aware of your environmentLook how things are done and question whether it is the right way. Opportunity is everywhere, but you need the eyes to be able to see it.
#5: Know yourself
You need to be able to differentiate between what you do for a living and who you are as a person.