We can solve Youth Unemployment with Access over Opportunity

by Pieter Twine, General Manager: MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet

Youth Month is often used to highlight career opportunities for young people in South Africa. My aim for Youth Month 2023 is that we don’t simply highlight opportunities, but rather focus on improving how we can give young people access to those opportunities.

According to the National Business Initiative, youth (people aged 15-34) in South Africa make up around 36% of the country’s total population, but represent approximately 75% of total unemployment – with 4.9 million in total, unemployed, according to the Q1 2023 Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS).

Just over 1 million young people exit the education system every year, but 43% of these become discouraged from seeking employment within just 6 months. Within a year of leaving school, nearly two-thirds of young people find themselves out of any system of employment, education, or training.

Research partly funded by the National Research Foundation reviewed thousands of articles and hundreds of research reports from organisations and experts in the field of employment – in particular, youth employment – to better understand the causes of youth unemployment and interventions that have sought to address it. The study found that:

  • Despite having a higher level of education than their parents, their prospects for employment are no better;
  • The education system fails to adequately provide youth with even basic skills that employers require, including appropriate levels of literacy and numeracy;
  • Young people wait longer in the labour market queue, particularly for their first job and largely due to lack of experience;
  • Schools offer little career guidance, leading to youth lacking information on matching skills and interests to their chosen school subjects;
  • Young people lack social networks which can help leverage information-gathering on the education, labour market, job availability and job access. A large proportion of youth not in employment, education or training (NEET) live in households where no one is employed; and
  • Youth are disillusioned about finding employment – and discouragement rates are rising.

That research shows a need to address skills, social capital and information gaps that young people face, increase focus on employer behaviour and hiring preferences; and offer a better understanding of mental health issues, discouragement and labour market engagement. Essentially, the path between qualified young people and the opportunities being created is a challenging one and needs to be smoothed, lit and safeguarded to give them the best possible chance of forcing economically-sustainable livelihoods and helping build the country’s economy.

The most powerful and quickest interventions that can be put in place to help solve this problem in South Africa include encouraging entrepreneurship; breaking the cycle of minimum experience requirements and offering on-the-job training.

Dedicating funds to opening up the world of entrepreneurship for young people will make it easier for them to establish businesses, boost the economy and employ other people. Teaching entrepreneurial skills isn’t enough – we need to cut red tape and nurture small enterprises so that they can grow into economically-sustainable employers.

Youth employment programs are an important step in helping young people gain the experience they need to gain formal employment. Apart from fostering them from within organisations which could potentially hire them at the end of their program in terms of the skills they need to do the job, it also teaches them vital lessons about organisational behaviour and equips them with multiple soft skills that are hard to acquire in a formal educational setting. Employing inexperienced young people and training them on the job can help build a business and grows the workforce of tomorrow. More and better skills mean more workers – and this forms a vital bridge between education and employment.

It’s our mission, then, to support organisations as part of our programs who are actively working at the employment coal face to drive opportunity, teaching vital skills and building the country’s workforce of the future. Many of our Beneficiaries, from youth-led academic assistance NPO Phakamani Young Minds Academy to Learn to Earn, which offers unemployed, disenfranchised people a hand up, not a hand out. MySchool MyVillage MyPlanet Supporters can help organisations like these with each swipe of their card at Partner stores – but I’d urge everyone with the means to go above and beyond even that in doing whatever they can to create viable employment opportunities for young people, wherever they can.