Resilience is the youth’s golden ticket into the labour market

To survive in a country with a high level of unemployment, resilience is probably one of the most important skills one could possess.
Almost one in three young people between 15 and 24 in SA were not employed, or part of the education and training system in the first quarter of this year. Picture: Shutterstock

Grade 12 learners will soon be facing their final school exams. For most, this will be followed by extended matric holidays. But what happens thereafter? For the lucky ones, it may be further studies at a higher education institution, or perhaps joining a family business.

The brave ones may start their own enterprises, while others may choose to take a so-called ‘gap year’ to try and finalise their future career plans. However, with only a few months left, many matriculants are still not sure where they will find themselves in the new year.

Numbers don’t lie

Finding a job in a crippled economy may be a challenge. According to Statistics SA (May 2018), South Africans between the ages of 15 and 34 remain vulnerable in the labour market. Many young people become so discouraged by the lack of work opportunities, that they also become disinterested in further education or training. Almost one in every three young people between 15 and 24 were not employed, or part of the education and training system in the first quarter of this year.

Graduate employment figures also show that a university degree does not guarantee a job. The unemployment rate among graduates aged between 15 and 24 was just over 33%, and among those between 25 and 34 years, just more than 10%.

Research has highlighted various factors that contribute to graduate unemployment. These include negative perceptions about certain higher education institutions by prospective employers, lack of work experience, lack of behavioural skills required by the specific industry, and cultural fit. All these figures and research paint a rather bleak picture to school leavers who are about to take their first steps into the adult world.

The resilient bright side

If we are a bit more optimistic, the figures also tell us that two in every three young people between 15 and 24 were employed, or in education in the first quarter of this year. So why is it possible for some young people to find their feet in the labour market? Again, there are many external factors contributing to this. However, we often forget about one of the most important factors that lead to success: the resilience of the jobseeker.

And then the question arises of why some people are more resilient than others. Researchers in the field of positive psychology have spent many hours trying to figure this out.

In the engineering world, resilience refers to the ability of an object, or structure, to spring back into shape after it was exposed to a severe force or pressure. Other terms associated with resilience are elasticity, flexibility, pliability, plasticity, and adaptability. In human terms, resilience refers to the ability of a person to recover from setbacks, adapt well to change, and keep going even when facing difficult circumstances. To survive in a country with a high level of unemployment, resilience is probably one of the most important skills for anyone to possess.

The characteristics of a resilient person remind us a bit of Aesop’s fable of the neighbouring willow and oak trees. Amid a raging storm, the mighty and solid oak collapsed, as it was rigid and inflexible. On the other hand, the willow survived owing to its ability to be flexible and adaptable to weather storms.

How to become a willow tree

How can we as humans cultivate such a willow-like character? Although researchers have made strong links between resilience, genetic and biological factors, the good news is that we can also learn to be more resilient! Here are a few ideas:

• Work on your level of self-awareness. If you have a good understanding of your strengths and development areas, you will be able to use or develop them to help you cope with stressors and problems in any area of your life. 
• Believe in your own abilities, and when things get almost too difficult, remind yourself that you can do hard things. 
• Relationships are excellent plant food for resilience. When things are tough, don’t rely on your own strength, but rather seek support from your friends, family, and colleagues. 
• Rather look at the glass as being half full, than half empty. Try to get a different, more optimistic perspective on a challenging situation. 
• Always remember that every problem in life has a solution. Don’t give up if you do not find an immediate solution.

Karina de Bruin is managing director of the JvR Academy.


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“negative perceptions about certain higher education institutions” In plain words, some degrees are not worth the paper they are printed on.

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