Teachers, don’t leave them kids alone. Picture: ISTOCK
Teachers, don’t leave them kids alone. Picture: ISTOCK

There is no denying that youth unemployment is an intractable problem in SA, with numerous studies referring to it as a multi-faceted issue. The biggest issues cited involve the evolving nature of the labour market and mismatches between the skills needed in the labour market and those provided through the educational system.

Research also indicates that a key challenge facing young job seekers, in particular, is the fact that SA’s labour market favours highly skilled employees.

In addition, South African employers, in their apparent distrust of the quality of education received by young people, have raised the bar for entry into low-level jobs even higher. Unfortunately, by escalating the basic educational requirements for entry-level jobs, employers are effectively shutting out a large pool of potentially-good young employees.

The uneven quality of SA’s public schooling system further exacerbates inequality when it comes to opportunities to find employment. Geographic location also acts as a barrier to employment since young people living outside major metropolitan areas have to spend more time and money looking for work.

I really do not believe that there should be growing reliance on entrepreneurs because promising a nation increased self-reliance, through entrepreneurship, is not realistic amid a technical recession

A recent national study of participants in a youth employability programme reported that the average transport and other work-seeking costs for young people were about R560 a month. This stands against the average per capita household income for the same group of youth of R527 a month. It is thus clear that the challenge of youth unemployment is a structural issue requiring massive policy adjustments, political will and time.

But what can be done in the interim? Numerous research findings often cite entrepreneurship as a key driver to employment creation and to breaking the chains of poverty. I beg to differ. I really do not believe that there should be growing reliance on entrepreneurs because promising a nation increased self-reliance, through entrepreneurship, is not realistic amid a technical recession.

The 2017-2018 global entrepreneurship monitor’s (GEM) report for SA revealed that the total early-stage entrepreneurial activity stands at 11.0%. This is 4.1 percentage points higher compared to the score of 6.9% in 2016. The report also highlights that entrepreneurial intentions have increased in the past few years to 11.7%, up from 10.1% in 2016-2017.

While this is commendable, the fact remains that for most young people in SA, both work and entrepreneurship opportunities are few and far between when one does not have the required skills and knowledge. The GEM research, which also indicates that youth entrepreneurship dropped by 40% last year, bears testimony to this fact.

The World Economic Forum reported on the importance of life-long learning, indicating that, on average, employees will need 101 days of retraining and upskilling leading up to 2022. Emerging-skills gaps — both among individual workers and companies’ senior leadership — may significantly thwart organisations’ transformation into the future.

Depending on the type of industry and geography, between half and two thirds of companies will likely fill positions in the future with external contractors, temporary staff and freelancers to address their skills gaps. In SA, a critical aspect we should enhance is not just entrepreneurial ideas and innovation, but also the need to provide access to information on careers and occupations, as well as highlight the skills that industries need.

Dysfunctional school system

We need to fund access to free data and WiFi hotspots for use on cellphones or internet cafés to enable young people to search for job opportunities or for post-secondary education and training opportunities. We also need to use social networks for information about and access to the labour market. These are critically-important tools and platforms for navigating entry into the labour market.

The government should also introduce compulsory basic education, combined with compulsory entrepreneurial aspects, for all South African children in order to mitigate inter-generational poverty

At the heart of SA’s youth unemployment crisis is a dysfunctional basic education system that continuously fails to provide our young labour market entrants with the skills and knowledge for the world of work. Schools must provide knowledge and skills for life and work, while serving as sites where young people feel they belong, develop identities and build their confidence and self-esteem through personal discovery.

I believe strongly that schools and the education department  must invest in and enforce mathematics and science subjects, career guidance and life skills by accelerating measures for improving the quality and relevance of education, particularly at primary and secondary school levels, to ensure that the youth is adequately prepared for the post-school environments — entrenching life-long learning and training.

The government should also introduce compulsory basic education, combined with compulsory entrepreneurial aspects, for all South African children in order to mitigate inter-generational poverty.

Solving SA’s youth unemployment problem will require action and credible implementation across the public and private sectors to create more jobs and give young people the skills and confidence required to succeed. Sadly, this problem cannot — and will not — be solved quickly or easily; it requires shorter-term macro-economic and fiscal policies to help drive job opportunities and growth.

Embedding entrepreneurship at the heart of the basic and post-school education system is a key initiative that will provide an environment where the dreams of millions of young people to make an impact and start their own enterprises would be a reality.

• Mulholland is human capital and skills development executive at the Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of Southern Africa.

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