The South African government has implemented many policies and programmes to promote job creation and entrepreneurship, particularly amongst the alarmingly high numbers of unemployed youth. The focus of these policies and programmes has been on the creation of start-up businesses.
Despite the vast resources committed to these programmes, their success at reducing unemployment is almost negligible.
Given that South Africa is resource strapped, does this focus on start-up creation represent the most effective policy stance towards small business? And if not, what policy measures should the government be focusing on instead?
Job creation power
The importance of small businesses overall in terms of employment is unquestionable. The Adcorp Employment Index for March 2012 shows that, in South Africa, 68% of employees are employed by small businesses employing less than 50 people, with two-thirds working at businesses that have less than five employees.
South Africa’s start-up business rate of 5.2%, as per the GEM 2011 Report, is notably higher than its new business rate of 4.0%, indicating that start-up firms dominate the country’s total early-stage entrepreneurial activity.
The GEM 2005 Report found that less than 4% of start-up businesses (defined as functioning for less than three and a half years) take on any staff. Mike Herrington, executive director of the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the UCT Graduate School of Business, points out that this means that for every 100 new small businesses, only about 10 additional jobs will be created.
On the other hand, further evidence from GEM shows that established small businesses, those that have survived for three and a half years or longer, are the ones that create jobs. The GEM 2011 Report states that these businesses create 3.2 jobs on average, and further states that established small businesses create 32 times the employment opportunities that start-up businesses do.
The GEM 2011 Report indicates that South Africa has an established business ownership rate of 2.3%, which is substantially lower than the average of 7.2% for all participating efficiency-driven countries. In terms of established business activity, South Africa ranked 52nd out of 54 countries.
This suggests that to create more jobs government policy should focus on supporting established small businesses rather than start-ups.
Interventions for sustainable job creation
While the government’s New Growth Path (NGP) targets for job creation appear ever more unlikely to materialise, it is essential to identify the interventions that are most likely to lead to sustainable job creation.
Focus on established businesses with potential for considerable growth
Most often it is the operation that employs around 10 people that is ready to cope with expansion. These are the businesses that should be receiving the bulk of our support services in the form of incentives, grants, export assistance, access to new markets, mentorship for the processes of business expansion, and even subsidies for selected essential services such as financial and HR consulting.
Agencies such as the National Empowerment Fund (NEF) and the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) should actively court these small businesses and provide them with proposals for expansion. Private sector agencies and banks should aggressively target this sector. In addition, giving procurement preference to this sector would assist suppliers with capacity building.
Relax labour policies
A working paper published by the African Development Bank in October 2012 states that:
Firm level surveys indicate that the single greatest impediment to the more rapid growth of outward-oriented manufacturing in South Africa is the high level of real wages relative to productivity levels. […] Labour market regulation – in particular the “extension provision” which requires collective bargaining agreements to be extended to all firms in an industry, regardless of size – is inhibiting investment and growth.
Small businesses cannot currently hire staff in confidence, because it is so difficult to fire people who are not performing. The Global Competitiveness Report 2011-2012 ranked South Africa 139th out of 142 countries in terms of rigid hiring and firing practices.
While laws to protect employees against exploitation and abuse are needed, there has to be a balance that makes it easier for companies to choose and retain the best person for the job. Relaxing the current dismissal regulations for the discretionary probation period would go a long way towards addressing this matter.
The existing regulations are counter-productive. Thousands of small businesses in South Africa, in fear of the arduous and costly dismissal process, are resorting to using temporary staff or hiring people only on short-term contracts.
The Adcorp May 2012 Employment Index notes that since 2000, permanent employment has fallen from 11.0 million to 9.1 million workers, a decline of 1.9 million workers or 18.7% of the workforce. In the same period, the number of temporary workers has increased by 2.6 million workers or 187.5%.
For the people in these jobs there is no job security; neither is there an incentive to strive to become a valued member of the workforce.
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Import needed skills
The concern that foreign workers will take jobs away from local people is misdirected – a lack of skills inhibits job creation because without a skilled workforce the economy cannot grow. When intellectual capital flows freely, it supports growth; yet current policies deny South Africa the benefit of an influx of skills, further stifling our economy.
Brazil, which has the world’s sixth largest economy, has traditionally had a permissive immigration policy. Its booming economy is now attracting growing numbers of Portuguese speaking immigrants from job-starved Europe.
Entrepreneurship is flourishing in Brazil– its Global Entrepreneurship Week in 2010 attracted 50 000 entrepreneurs, compared with the 8 000 who attended South Africa’s.
Open up access to African markets
Intra-African trade is tiny relative to what it could be. Given a giant market on our doorstep (up to 30% of Africans are now middle-income earners)South Africa fails to compete with suppliers from abroad. Indian, Chinese and South American products are flooding into Africa– where are the South African goods?
Our potential exporters are hampered by old trade monopolies, cumbersome Forex regulations, corruption, cross-border nightmares and a lack of infrastructure.
Government is not working hard and fast enough with its African trading partners to ease the trading environment, improve capacity at border posts, and clear the obstacles to a smooth movement of goods. South Africais ranked as 115th out of 185 economies for ease of trading across borders in The World Bank’s Doing Business Guide 2013. This is a regional problem that is stifling cross-border trade: Sub-Saharan Africa on average ranks 137th.
Focus on entrepreneurial education rather than start-up financing
Contrary to popular opinion, lack of access to finance is not the primary obstacle to small business growth. More money won’t solve the problem. A bigger concern should be entrepreneurial skills development and education.
A Development Bank of Southern Africa working paper published in 2011 summarises the South African government’s youth entrepreneurship programmes as follows:
The NYDA is responsible for overseeing and monitoring these interventions for young people, including the provision of loans for young entrepreneurs, business development services, potential support for youth cooperatives and the introduction of youth entrepreneurial training in schools. However, the number of young people accessing these services in 2010 was almost negligible. Hence, there is a major gap in youth entrepreneurial training, which needs to be addressed if self-employment is to provide a pathway into employment for young people.
Emerging entrepreneurs urgently need to learn to understand the concept of a commercially viable business. A legacy of our failed education system and the previous deliberate marginalisation of black entrepreneurs is that the majority of emerging entrepreneurs have not had exposure to the complexities of building a viable and sustainable business.
They also often have no experience in identifying viable opportunities and developing these into sustainable ventures.
Banks would love to lend more money if it meant that they could get a competitive return on their investment. There is a great deal more money chasing good ideas than there are good ideas trying to get funding. Again, the solution is to give targeted support to those businesses that have the right potential, and the funding would follow.
Here, the private sector could make a strong contribution in the short-term by deploying skilled personnel (even for a few hours a month) to mentor smaller companies within their supply chains.
Whatever the problems in the small business sector, South Africans are enterprising. With the correct support directed at high potential established small businesses, a lighter corporate governance load and entrepreneurially friendly legislation, entrepreneurship can be the solution to reducing poverty and increasing job creation.
Customer Control For Entrepreneurs
How can small companies exert a degree of control over their customer base and help ‘guide’ them in such a way that they remain loyal and continue purchasing from them?
No organisation, irrespective its size, industry, and geographic location, can succeed without customers. And given how the digital environment has made it easier for competitors across sectors to emerge, entrepreneurs are especially under pressure to balance customer needs and desires, with value propositions that still make them money.
There is clearly a fine balancing act to manage.
On the one hand, you have people who (thanks to technology) are aware of the power they have over product development and pricing. After all, if a competitor sells a product or service at a lower price, who is the customer going to go with? Add to this, the ability to customise solutions according to data analysis of specific end user needs, then you have a situation where many entrepreneurs feel they are facing a never-ending struggle.
On the other, small to medium businesses must be able to produce products and services in such a way that cash flow is maintained. As any entrepreneur can attest to, not having a reliable cash flow is tantamount to business failure. So, how can small companies exert a degree of control over their customer base and help ‘guide’ them in such a way that they remain loyal and continue purchasing from them?
One of the most important elements in this regard is managing customer expectations. The emergence of social media and the power it has to influence people’s buying decisions, cannot be overestimated. Today, more than ever before, the likes of word of mouth, marketing, and public relations as a direct result of social networking can often grow or sink a burgeoning business.
It has also created a dynamic where customers feel that if they leave a negative comment or ask a question, they expect a response almost immediately. For entrepreneurs already trying to do everything themselves while managing the business, this can often be a major cause of frustration. But it does not have to be the case.
By setting parameters up front with customers in terms of response times, queries, and even experiences, small businesses can start leveraging the power of social networking and other digital communication technologies for their benefit.
Being pro-active and taking charge of these expectations puts the organisation in more control than if a hands-off approach is followed.
Openness and transparency might sound like luxuries no entrepreneur can afford, but these concepts build strongly from managing expectations. Having open discussions with customers on aspects of support, product requirements, and even their (the end user) own expectations can greatly assist a small company to provide a more bespoke approach to products and services.
In addition, by providing customers with various resources (think troubleshooting or ‘self-help’), the entrepreneur is empowering them to take control of their own experiences with the company. It also means they are not as reliant on company resources if they were to phone the organisation or email a complaint. The added benefit to this approach is the customer can manage their own experiences when they have the time to do so irrespective of whether it is 10:00 or 22:00.
Granted, the path to customer control (perceived or otherwise) is not an easy one to take. However, no entrepreneur can afford not to take notice of these requirements and put the customer at the forefront of their thinking.
What Can Businesses Expect From The Future Of Work?
While the future of work will always be a constant process of innovation and change, here are a few things that business today can expect in the near future.
The phrase “future of work” is something professionals have been talking about since the birth of the traditional workplace in the late 19th century.
Once defined by cubicles that were arranged neatly side by side with meeting rooms and, of course, the head office with an amazing view of the skyline, today’s offices are strikingly different.
Over the last decade, there has been a surge in the development of open-plan offices, and more and more companies are moving their employees to co-working spaces and experimenting with remote work. For businesses that are still straddling the traditional office, but looking to embrace the future of work, it could be overwhelming at first. While the future of work will always be a constant process of innovation and change, here are a few things that business today can expect in the near future.
Expect flat hierarchies
In 2017, most companies have recognised that employees, especially younger ones are turned off by the conventional hierarchies that once dominated the world place.
Start-ups and small businesses often pride themselves on their “flat” workplace culture, which aims to give both leaders and employees the chance to give input on an equal level. In theory, these structures aim to make room for more innovation and also to help workers feel more appreciated in their roles.
Yet, it doesn’t come without its issues. There have been various studies showing that egalitarian workplace structures can be disorienting and can potentially result in higher turnover rates, as employees feel lost in their roles. Thus, it will take time for the workplace to strike a balance between structure and equality, but so far it seems we are well on our way.
The architecture of the office space is changing rapidly
Chances are you’ve heard of open-plan offices. With corporate giants like Facebook and Google companioning the flexible workspace, company around the world are breaking down literal walls to create airy and open offices that encourage collaboration.
Again, much like the flat workspace, open-plan offices need to be considerate of individual needs. While many workers appreciate the chance to work in a more informal setting, the open office has also faced criticism for introducing new distractions by not including enough private areas, which can lead to a downturn in productivity. As a result, more companies are turning to co-working spaces, which offer both workspace and community space.
Co-working spaces differ from open-offices in the way that they provide community management, structure, and flexibility, ensuring that workers have their needs met, whether that means a private office for the whole company or a hot desk for workers who just want to come in a couple of times during the week.
Remote work will be commonplace
Allowing employees to work remotely has proven to be successful. Companies have been introducing remote days over the last five years, and some even allow their staff to telecommute on a full-time basis. In the early days of the freelance ecosystem, remote work was considered to be unprofessional, but we have learned over the years the allowing employees to telecommute, even on a part-time basis can make them more productive and satisfied in their roles.
There’s no doubt that advancements in communication tools, such as Slack, have allowed workers more freedom, but there are also enormous benefits for businesses as well.
Companies can save on overhead costs by moving teams into a co-working space, or take out a flexible lease in combination with allowing workers to work outside of the office, even if it’s just a few days a week. By saving on rent and utilities, leaders can make room in their budget to invest in employees, by offering educational workspaces or purchasing new equipment.
Overall, these changes have a long way to go before they become permanent fixtures in the workplace. In fact, many businesses are now experimenting with various workplaces trends to find what works best for them and their employees.
Yet, even if you are not ready to grant your staff remote days or turn your office into a single shared space, it’s vital that your business is aware of these trends so you can keep up with the rapidly changing future workplace.
How Investors Can Take Advantage Of The Rand’s Currency Trading Rates
Negative sentiment is likely to be pervasive with the SA economy, and it will take more than a new figurehead in government to right the wrongs of a mismanaged economy.
The USD/ZAR currency pair is trading in the 13.65 range heading into mid-December 2017. Over the past year, the 52-week low was 12.3126, and the 52-week high was 14.5742. As one of the more volatile currencies in the trading spectrum, the ZAR is closely associated with the political shenanigans taking place in South Africa.
The year to date return for the currency pair is -0.50%, after having started 2017 at 13.7351. Much of the activity taking place with the ZAR is speculative. Futures contracts are largely responsible for the whipsaw movements in prices.
Wilkins Finance strategists stress the importance of credit ratings agencies on currencies:
‘Whenever credit ratings agencies such as Moody’s and Fitch downgrade their assessments of the South African economy, this has a negative impact on the ZAR. The impact is not always predictable however – towards the end of November 2017, the USD/ZAR had appreciated after the recent ratings downgrade of the economy.’
Moody’s Investors Service downgraded South Africa’s economy to a rating of Baa3. This is the lowest rating level for Moody’s. Further ratings will be announced in February next year. Fitch has already downgraded the foreign currency and local currency to BB +, but has offered a stable Outlook for the ZAR.
That S&P also downgraded the South African economy to sub-investment grade is an important decision, and one that will have negative ramifications for the South African bonds market. Now, the Barclays Global Bond Index will no longer feature South African bonds. That South Africa’s bond market will be excluded from the World Government Bond Index will also be a bugbear to any hopes of the ZAR appreciating.
Interest Rates in the South African Economy
The South African interest rate is highly attractive to foreign investors, given that the UK, US, Canada, Japan, and European bank rates are at historic lows. There is little to be gained by investing cash in fixed-interest-bearing securities in these economies. The current interest rate in South Africa is 6.75% (as at November 23, 2017). The interest rate has dropped to expand economic activity in the country.
Overall, South Africa’s inflation rate for the year is expected to remain at 5.3% dropping to 5.2% in 2018 and rising to 5.5% by 2019. Global investors remain concerned about the risk/reward environment in South Africa. The country has experienced significant capital outflows in recent years, driven in large part by uncertainty regarding future prospects. The USD/ZAR was trading at 14.60 in late November, and current ZAR strength is being attributed to USD weakness.
Factors on Both Sides of the Atlantic
One of the major economic events affecting exchange rates will be the reconciliation of the House and Senate bills on US tax legislation. Any major overhaul of the US tax code will invariably result in a dramatically boosted USD, and a weakened ZAR. For traders, it appears to be short-term call options on the local currency and long-term call options on the USD.
It is evident that currency traders are hedging against the ZAR over the long-term. The fundamentals of the economy are structurally unstable. The power grid infrastructure, water supply problems, and political instability at the highest echelons are but a few of the many problems plaguing South African growth prospects.
However, the ZAR will draw strength from the election of a credible leader, and this will be particularly noteworthy with Cyril Ramaphosa’s appointment. Overall, negative sentiment is likely to be pervasive with the SA economy, and it will take more than a new figurehead in government to right the wrongs of a mismanaged economy.
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