Don’t get comfortable – Shawn Gama lays down the challenge to fellow business owners

September 2022: As businesses started to lift their heads above the water to breathe after holding their breath for a little over two years, some were not so lucky under the pressure resulting from the Covid-19 lockdown.

As a result, the market has been challenging for every employer and employee in South Africa. And it seems that it will stay that way for a while to come, as we are hearing reports of a looming US recession and our challenges with regard to energy supply and costs and fuel increases. These are all factors that influence the cost of doing business.

However, Zimile Consulting Engineers CEO Shawn Gama is optimistic and shares his views on navigating the rough and murky waters of the South African business market. He advises business owners on staying afloat during difficult times and doing their bit to tackle rising youth unemployment.

Businesses fail because they focus on major contracts

“Don’t get comfortable,” says Gama. “ To have one large contract does not mean that can sit back and pop the champagne because they’ve made it. Instead, business owners should remain open to new opportunities and constantly seek to diversify their clientele. We’re always looking for opportunities, we can successfully run numerous projects, but we won’t stop looking for opportunities to grow our portfolio.”

In this regard, Gama urges small businesses to continue to look for opportunities across the country.  “There are enough opportunities to diversify your clientele and relieve your business from dependency on one large client in one province.”

Gama also highlights the importance of diversifying your service offering. “We’ve managed to stay afloat during one of the worst times in our industry by changing our focus. For example,  Zimile branched from being a roads-oriented engineering company to delivering successful water projects. As a business owner, follow the market and adapt your service offering accordingly.”

Increased unemployment in a shrinking market

While times are undoubtedly challenging, Gama swims against the current and challenges fellow business owners to pay it forward and provide the unemployed youth with the opportunity to gain the experience and skills.

“As business leaders, we have the opportunity to open the doors to the youth and enable them to gain the experience and skills required to build their career while building our businesses.” Gama explains that businesses must be aware of SETA and its benefits: “Your role as a business owner is to provide the platform for the youth to gain experience and skills. SETA will take care of the rest.”

The ageing workforce is a challenge that all businesses face and will continue to face. “A perfect storm is brewing in South Africa, where the experienced, skilled workforce is ageing and nearing retirement, while the inexperienced, sometimes skilled unemployed youth are sitting idle, waiting for employment.”

Gama also argues that South Africa at times places too much emphasis on degrees and certifications. “Other countries ensure ample opportunities to skill up a workforce who can contribute to the economy without degrees and certificates, i.e. entrepreneurial people. Although, in South Africa, we are educated to be employed. We find educated, unemployed youth standing at intersections with placards highlighting their degrees and certifications. This is a massive problem.”

He advocates for learnership programmes and believes this is one way to ensure businesses are doing their bit in fighting the high youth unemployment rate, currently estimated at 70%. 

So, Gama lays down the challenge to his fellow business owners: “Don’t get comfortable, and reach out your hand and help to skill up our unemployed youth to build a legacy and future for all of South Africa”.