David Lekomanyane is the first in his family to go to university and much is expected of him. The family could not have been prouder of the 26-year-old when he completed his Bachelor of Technology in mining engineering at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) in 2015.

It was supposed to be the beginning of a better life‚ but in reality it heralded a new struggle for the Ermelo resident.

Lekomanyane has been unemployed for almost two years and a lack of experience seems to be his downfall‚ according to feedback from employers. He says most companies require a minimum of three years’ work experience. He has moved back to his hometown to try and work around this stumbling block.

"I’ve moved back to Mpumalanga to volunteer in one of the local mines‚ so I can gain the required work experience. It’s not easy telling my family that I will be a volunteer because they thought I would easily get a decent job after completing my studies."

Lekomanyane’s family survives on his grandparents’ pension grants. His first-year university fees were covered by a government study loan‚ which has still left him with debt of R32‚000. Through hard work‚ Lekomanyane got funding from the Mining Qualifications Authority‚ which covered his third- and fourth-year university fees‚ amounting to an estimated R200‚000.

He has managed to secure an internship, starting in December, with a mining company where he will be earning about R2‚000 a month. "As a volunteer‚ I know I will be earning next to nothing, but I am willing to start somewhere. It is discouraging but I am passionate about mining and I am a hard worker. I know one day I will get the job I am qualified for."

Lekomanyane is not the only young person in his position. A recent report by the Centre for Development and Enterprise showed that 7.5-million young South Africans are unemployed‚ not in training or education. The report points to a lack of entry-level jobs‚ poor education and training‚ plus the legacy of apartheid‚ as some of the contributing factors increasing the number of unemployed youth.

It also said the number of people with degrees doubled between 1995 and 2011 — but graduate unemployment remained under 10%.

Nthabiseng Mnisi from Midrand‚ who holds a BA in humanities from UJ‚ is also struggling to get a job. The 26-year-old graduated in 2015 and has not been employed since. She has submitted countless applications, but is constantly told she needs work experience.

"I have applied everywhere. Sometimes I feel like giving up because I don’t know what else I must do to get a job. I have the qualification, but I am often told that I don’t have enough work experience. How can I have work experience if nobody is willing to give me a chance?"

Sean Hughes from The Recruitment Agency of SA says students must volunteer in industries in line with their studies — before graduating. "People are taught about their dream jobs, but nobody is teaching students how to get that dream job. Most candidates can’t compile a professional CV. If you don’t have work experience‚ volunteer and market yourself via social media platforms."

Natasha Terlecki of job finders Quest and Kelly says seeking employment via a recruitment agency can be advantageous because they can clean up your CV and link candidates with relevant companies that are hiring. "Graduates should also consider internships‚ often available as a paid learning opportunity with companies. Be prepared to start at the bottom and work your way up. As you build up experience and job knowledge‚ additional opportunities will open up."

Terlecki advises graduates to research their chosen fields and to find mentors they can shadow at work. "Once in an internship or an entry-level role‚ dedicate your time‚ effort and passion to getting experience on the job and improve your skills," she says. "Skills shortages exist in every industry. Information technology and digital skills are always in demand. The contact centre and business process outsource industry is set to grow exponentially and will require skills and expertise across disciplines."

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