According to Statistics South Africa of the 40,0 million working age population in Q1:2023, more than half (51, 6%) were youth (15-34 years). With such a large segment of the population vulnerable to unemployment it doesn’t augur well for our future.
The Expert Corner on 23 May 2023 at the Southern Sun in Sandton (previously known as the Holiday Inn) tackled the thorny question of youth unemployment in South Africa. Professor Steven Friedman, a “self-confessed academic” and political scientist from the University of Johannesburg gave the keynote address followed by presentations from Cell C, the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA), Old Mutual Insure and Coca Cola, among others.
Youth unemployment affects all of us. It is a critical issue which can no longer be pushed on the back burner. The 2022 South African National Budget allocated R5, 2 billion in tax relief to support economic recovery after the recent COVID pandemic, which included incentives for youth employment. However, the issue of youth unemployment has remained a stark reality.
“The first quarter of 2023 results show that the total number of unemployed youth (15-34 years) increased …” (Statistics South Africa May 2023). That presents a major problem that should be addressed with urgency.
Prof Friedman made the optimistic statement that he rarely sees a problem that cannot be fixed and set out an interesting view of the current job market. We are asking the wrong questions, he avers, and should not talk about jobs but about livelihoods which incorporates other ways of earning a living.
The highly regulated formal economy does not recognise the entrepreneurial spirit and endeavours of the informal sector which support and feed many. There is a prejudice against social grants, forgetting the hidden subsidies of the suburbs.
Tons of research shows that the social grants are used to earn money, Prof Friedman said using the example of whereas in the past there were queues to work on the mines, there are now queues to get into the supermarket. If grants were stopped the economy would take a nose dive
Contribution from the corporate sector
Ms Lethiwe Hlatshwayo, Executive Head: Corporate Affairs and Communications at Cell C, discussed their SEE YOUTH programme with zero rated podcasts and accessible information in partnership with different stakeholders focussing on wellness, entrepreneurial and technical skills; a mentorship programme; career guidance and business support (See You in Business).
Mr Walter Bango, Deputy President of the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) a public entity which came into being by an Act of Parliament (Act 54 of 2008) highlighted the micro-grant to start a business which has shown favourable results with 60% of businesses proving to be sustainable. The NYDA has 43 branches in all the nine provinces.
Mr Kabelo Mohono, Corporate Social Investment Specialist, from Coca-Cola Beverages South Africa discussed their youth programme which focuses on education from Grade 9 to Grade 11 in rural areas and Business in a Box which caters for the young people who want to be entrepreneurs. They are also involved in supply development and capacitation of NGOs.
Antonia Oakes, Executive Head of Customer Experience & Responsible Business at Old Mutual Insure discussed their support of small businesses after Covid 19, micro-lending and partnerships with NGOs. Ubuntu Pathways facilitates youth skills training in practical, saleable skills such as plumbing and panel-beating.
Mrs Riah Phiyega, former National Commissioner of the South African Police, is currently the Executive Director and CEO of the Safer South Africa Foundation which provides “education and awareness programmes aimed at steering youth away from exposure to crime and providing them with positive survival skills as well as preparing them as future leaders”.
Ms Phiyega suggested a National Youth Service Programme with a stipend to gain experience as lack of experience is a major stumbling block to finding work. Social enterprise and access to opportunities should be divided between the 42% of youth who live in the rural areas and the 52% who live in the cities.
She concluded the day’s proceedings by stating that everyone invested in youth development and employment should move from competition to collaboration. The clarion call of this communal voice to improve the prospects of the youth should be elevated and heard by everyone. Efforts should also focus on motivating the youth, especially the ones who have lost hope, become despondent and are no longer looking for work.
A personal story: one of my nephews left school, did a computer course and with bright eyes started looking for work. With no experience he had no offers. Now in his thirties, the knowledge of his computer course forgotten he slouches around, not daring to look anyone in the eye.
How many young people out there are in the same boat?