Youth Unemployment – some notes

Unemployment stats confirm that some 75% of South Africas unemployed are under 35 years old and of those, 70% have never had a first job. Effectively making them unemployable

One South African Economist, Mike Shussler confirms that South Africa is the biggest welfare state in the world with a dependency ratio of 3 unemployed individuals to every 1 who is employed.

There are multiple causes to this high unemployment rate and high dependency rate amongst our youth, including that our education system is either inadequate or has collapsed, and is not preparing our youth for employment and entrepreneurship-based economic participation.  Furthermore, too many of our youth remain dislocated from economic opportunities caused by the lingering effects of apartheid planning which separated people based on race, and inadequate, expensive and unreliable public transport offerings that are unable to connect our youth with economic opportunities.  Too many of our households are single parent-headed and even child-headed.  Speaking to many of our youth, it is clear that for the majority, their time is spent pursuing more urgent priorities like meeting their daily needs of food and shelter, and  economic survival in the informal sector or second economy.

“While social security helped relieve poverty, it was not sustainable and there was the real issue that it did not help people exit a life of poverty. In fact, it would pass on poverty to the next generation” (Warby, 2007).

This high unemployment rate and high welfare dependency rate among our youth, has several effects, including that they become disillusioned, feel disconnected from formal economic growth opportunities, and their self-worth is further damaged.  Furthermore, the IEC’s recent analysis of “registration to vote” among our youth, is that only 10% of 18 and 19-year-olds in the country are currently registered as voters – the Western Cape has the lowest at only 4%, the highest percentage (15 percent) is in the Eastern Cape, while Gauteng has five percent in this age band registered as voters.  In the age band 20 – 29 years, some 52 percent of potential voters are currently registered to vote.

Worryingly, this demonstrates that our youth either don’t want to, don’t know how to or don’t see the need to participate in this vital democratic process, won with the first democratic elections in 1994.

The reality is that youth unemployment challenges are closely linked with youth empowerment solutions, which are both multiple and complex.  Urgent attention is needed – by government, the business sector & NGO’s.

But a study of employment and empowerment among our youth by UCT’s GSB confirmed that over 50% of those who succeeded in finding their first job, were assisted by a member of their household or the closer community in which they live.  This confirms the ACDP’s view that urgent attention, collaboration and coordinated action is also needed within these close social networks of families and communities, rather than too many simply relying on government and business to find them and employ them.

Studies done on various approaches to youth unemployment and empowerment, show a range of successes and failures.  Any approach must be holistic, broad based and driven by all sectors in society, not just by government, and aimed at all youth, not only narrowly based on sexy “projects and programmes”.  The aim must be to develop all of society not youth in isolation to the rest of society.

  • A coherent approach assesses successes and failures, shares best practice and collaborates for the benefit of all of society and the youth in particular as a vital component.
  • Any approach must also be sensitive to diversity.

Discrimination and marginalisation of some youth sub-groups must be identified and eradicated.  “The youth” is not one homogenous group – many subgroups exist (including the disabled, of economic status, rural/urban, race, etc) and targeted interventions must also be designed to address these subgroups.

“Young people are empowered when they have and can create choices, make an informed decision freely, take actions based on that decision and accept responsibility for the consequences of that action.”(Commonwealth plan for action, 2005, in Charles, 2006).  The reality is that youth employment and youth empowerment is not sufficiently a national priority and millions of Rands of tax payers money, aimed at addressing this challenge, are frittered away through corruption, massive and ineffective conferences and programmes run by the NYDA and government departments across the country, instead of being dispersed to NGO’S and agencies, Community Based Organisations and entities who have proven their efficacy of working closely with and for the communities they serve.

The youth are South Africa’s greatest asset not our greatest liability but until priorities change, South Africa will continue to sit on a youth time bomb.

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