Preparing for the future: A JPMorgan programme is enabling young South Africans to get credentials they need to become employable. Picture: ELAINE BANISTER
Preparing for the future: A JPMorgan programme is enabling young South Africans to get credentials they need to become employable. Picture: ELAINE BANISTER

SA’s youth are disillusioned, discouraged and jobless. If something drastic is not done to tackle the challenge of youth unemployment, the issue is set to implode in the near future.

There are people working to fix the problem and many helpful interventions are under way, including those that take care of work readiness. With 27.7% unemployment in the second quarter of 2017, SA’s unemployment rates is one of the highest in the world. In 2015, unemployment among people aged 15 to 29 was about 36% and was more than 50% among those aged 22 to 24.

Youth unemployment affects SA’s growth potential and drives poverty, inequality, crime and other societal issues. Working-age youth represent 31% of the working age population.

There are several factors contributing to youth unemployment. Low levels of education remain a problem. The Statistics SA 2015 Labour Force survey reports that those with educational levels below matric in SA are close to three times more likely to be discouraged job seekers than those with tertiary qualifications.

There is also little opportunity for youth to access practical skills training. Access to workplace-based learning is limited to formal apprenticeships and learnerships. But these can only absorb limited numbers. The policy environment is also challenging for employers. While proactive employers are looking at innovative ways to link up with colleges, with the involvement of the sector education and training authorities, more effective and credible models are needed as well as commitment to scale. Major skills mismatches exist between the workforce and the competencies required by employers. In 2016, African Economic Outlook reported a 54% mismatch between the skills of job seekers and employers’ requirements in 36 African labour markets.

The problem is exacerbated for poor communities with limited resources. It’s that old Catch-22: young people can’t get jobs without work experience, but the only way to get experience is by finding a job.

That’s the broken link that needs to be fixed.

There is a need to accelerate, enable and facilitate young people’s transitions into economic activity, particularly those who are vulnerable to poverty and long-term unemployment.

In Gauteng, where unemployment was 26.8% in 2015, that means areas like greater Orange Farm, Alexandra, greater Soweto, Ivory Park and Diepsloot, according to the 2016 Integrated Development Plan, are vital areas to focus on.

Through this partnership, new training programmes in renewable energy, baking, merchandising and computing will be piloted in Orange Farm and other priority areas

We need to identify and scale solutions that can overcome the barriers inhibiting job-seekers from successfully transitioning into productive jobs. At the same time, we need to tackle cost issues and ensure that the quality of outcomes is not compromised. We must also co-ordinate efforts and investments better across sectors and geographies to speed up and improve our results.

By collaborating, we can multiply the effect. For example, New Skills For Youth is a $75m, five-year global JPMorgan initiative with the aim of enabling young people to obtain the education and credentials they need to be employable and to succeed in well-paying jobs.

The programme is a collaboration between JPMorgan, Jet Education Services and the Catholic Institute of Education, along with 12 affiliated skills-training centres and the MSC Artisan Academy.

Through this partnership, new training programmes in renewable energy, baking, merchandising and computing will be piloted in Orange Farm and other priority areas in partnership with the City of Johannesburg, Discovery Holdings and the Department of Higher Education and Training.

The programme will benefit 1,000 young people and the project in Orange Farm will be SA’s first global innovation site for simulated workplace-based learning. As part of the initiative, Jet will engage with the youth to identify how to grow economic opportunities in their areas.

This is an example of how seemingly disparate groups can bridge the gaps between a young person’s schooling and entering into employment.

• Ho is head of Europe, Middle East and Africa for the JPMorgan Chase Foundation.

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