With reference to your feature on youth unemployment, "Shining a light on jobs" (Features, November 9-15), Claire Bisseker validly points out the immense challenge of "bridging young people’s transition to the world of work and actually landing them their first job".

She highlights the very valuable role that Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator is playing in the country as an independent not-for-profit social enterprise that was incubated by Yellowwoods in 2011. It has, in its six years of existence, helped more than 40,000 young people find their first jobs in partnership with 400 employers, from large corporates to small enterprises.

The feature also serves to raise our awareness of the challenge millions of young people face in looking for work when they reside in townships far from economic nodes.

The finding of the Siyakha study by the Centre for Social Development in Africa at the University of Johannesburg that the median unemployed young person spends R550/month on job searches, of which R350 is for transport alone, is extremely important.

But the article is wrong in stating that the transition to work is "the core problem". There is another core problem: the shortage of appropriate skills.

The article is also wrong in stating that "there is no shortage of investment going into formal skills training in SA".

To the contrary, there is a desperate shortage of investment in skills training in the public technical and vocational education and training (TVET) colleges.

There are 50 registered and accredited public TVET colleges in SA. They operate on more than 264 campuses in rural and urban areas in all nine provinces. In 2015 there were 702,383 enrolments at TVET institutions. Of these, close to 24% chose engineering as a field of study.

Research I have conducted at engineering campuses of a TVET college revealed immense capital shortages in obtaining state-of-the-art machinery and technology on which to train its students. At just one campus of one public TVET college the priority requirements for new machinery amounted to R26.5m. The current investment requirement at the 50 public TVET colleges thus easily adds up to billions of rand.

This is desperately needed to help bring the standard of training at our TVET colleges up to the standard required by industry and business.

The article is also wrong to assert that "SA shouldn’t be funding endless training" and that "opportunities opening up in various growth sectors of the economy", which tend to be "high-value jobs like those in data analytics, call centres and certain sophisticated manufacturing and agri-processing jobs ... don’t necessarily require tertiary qualifications". It is difficult to imagine how youth without at least a matric pass and some post-school technical and vocational education and training could perform jobs in data analytics and sophisticated manufacturing and agri-processing.

Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of unemployed youth do not have a matric pass. Almost three-quarters of the unemployed in SA have received a primary education or incomplete secondary education at most.

The scale of the youth unemployment problem goes way beyond the services that Harambee provides, good as they are. In the third quarter of 2017 there were 10.1m young people aged 15-34 years who had the potential to be in the labour force. Of these, 3.9m were unemployed. Intervention on a far larger scale than at present is required.

The article is therefore wrong to stress only the transition to the world of work and to play down the need for formal skills development. They are both essential requirements for most of the unemployed youth of SA in order to help them land their first jobs.

Johann Maree
Emeritus professor of sociology,
University of Cape Town

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