How mentorships could help shape the future of South Africa

Studies conducted by the University of the Western Cape have found that between 70% and % ( of businesses fail within the first five years. These are scary numbers to look at, and after speaking to professionals in various industries, I wonder what the failure rate is for new graduates when they enter their profession. They all seem to say the same thing: graduates entering the workforce are nowhere ready to work for the companies that hire them.

When you speak to professionals you can understand their frustration at dealing with new graduates who are “know it alls” and feel they should be running the business based on the degree they have obtained. Yes, they might have mastered the theory, but they have no understanding of how to apply it practically, or how to navigate the corporate world.

I have personally seen graduates coming into the workforce thinking that they will be immediately earning a high salary. It is a rude awakening for them when they hear that they would probably need to start in an internship earning nothing more than a stipend, and that their starting salary thereafter will be modest.

This is where mentoring can be so useful for these graduates for them to understand that even if they have great ideas it does not always lead to instant success. Don’t get me wrong, I think their energy and insights are required in a technology driven, social media controlled modern world, and this could be beneficial to any company if it is done right.

So how do we harness the energy and insights offered by the youth, and improve their efficiency and initial experiences in the workplace?

One powerful way is through focused mentorship programmes. I have always seen myself as an educator, and teaching and mentoring has come naturally to me. I wish this could be a calling for more people as I think it mentorships could fundamentally change the experience that our youth have as they enter the workforce. Not only is there a need for this type of guidance for the youth, but also entrepreneurs that are starting a new business.

This is where professions such as Chartered Accountants and attorneys have got it right. Graduates are required to complete a two-year articles programme as they embark on their careers. These graduates know that they are in for long hours and low pay when they start their articles, because everyone has warned them about it.

A form of this should be standard for each industry.

After understanding what your reality will be when you join the workforce you now need a mentor that can help you navigate your new environment. Technology and the use of it comes easy for the Generation Zers. Dealing with people that do not speak their language is not so easy for them and can cause frustration for the entire workforce. Having a proper mentorship programme in place could also lead to less resistance from current workforce and can create clear growth opportunities for your graduates, which will mean more harmony in an organisation. Dare I say it, a win, win for all.

The mentorship concept seems to have gained increasing traction in recent years. Mentorship programmes such as  and the are gaining followers. There is a professional body where mentors can register themselves: Even government has spearheaded various mentorship programmes for young entrepreneurs and work-seekers.


There’s little doubt about the value of mentorship, but many of the professionals who are well-suited to the task are inundated with work, and good mentoring involves a considerable time commitment.

The question we need to ask here is: can we find a group of people with both the time and relevant experience that can guide these youth and entrepreneurs?

The answer is yes: our retired citizens. Retirees have a wealth of experience and knowledge, and are often looking for a purpose. The average retirement age is roughly 60 years (, and with life expectancies increasing in South Africa and globally, retirees often end full-time work with several years of potentially productive years to spare.

From my experience you will see a lot of retired people enjoying the first couple of months of retirement and then getting bored and looking for a challenge. Let them guide our young entrepreneurs while simultaneously generating an income from the experience that they have gathered in their work life. Let us not throw away resources where they are so desperately needed.

As a B-BBEE professional, I can say that an opportunity exists for the Department of Trade, Industry and Competition to add more on mentoring by adding it as an indicator on the Amended Codes of Good Practice.

In this regard, the Construction Sector Charter has led the way. It allows for three points to be scored under Skills Development for an Implementation of an Approved and Verified Mentorship Programme. You can even score an additional bonus points for people that were promoted due to them having completed the learnership programme. This provides clear incentive for companies to drive mentorship programmes, and I feel this should be standard across all charters.

Let’s increase meaningful mentorship programmes across the country by inviting retirees to get involved and structuring incentives for companies to follow suit. I know getting people to commit their precious time to help individuals that are not friends or family does not come natural to human beings, but I promise you that when you see the growth in a person that you are mentoring and they succeed in their endeavors, their success becomes your success.


Author –  Kurt Van Der Westhuizen, 04 December 2020