Youth, unemployment and the South African dream

Youth unemployment is at 36.1%, according to Stats SA. (David Harrison, M&G)

Youth unemployment is at 36.1%, according to Stats SA. (David Harrison, M&G)

Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) recently announced that youth unemployment in the country has fallen to 36.1% – a 3.4% drop since 2008. I want to tell you (as the youth) not to worry about this because it seems to be a global trend, but you do need to worry about it.

While the numbers for education and skills development have improved, this seems to have no effect on the improvement of employment. A better-equipped youth in terms of education does not necessarily equal a more employed youth.

The fall in numbers has been attributed to a mismatch between the types of skills they equip themselves with, at universities or FET colleges, and the jobs available to them. Statistician general Pali Lehohla says the discrepancy is not unexpected. But are the poor unemployment rates among the youth really the government’s problem (totally) or are the youth of today perhaps lacking in a skill that’s less available to them in classrooms?

I didn’t study to become a teacher, the job luckily enough just fell into my lap. Besides basic teachers’ training as part of a major in music education, being a school teacher was not part of the bigger plan. But I needed the money, the job paid well and I ended up doing it for five years. I left completely saturated yet confident in the fact that I had gained enough from it to apply the experience elsewhere and move on.

It sounds comfortable, convenient even, but it wasn’t; especially not after a stint of packing groceries at the local Spar and being a cashier at the Juicy Lucy. I then moved on to becoming a cocktail waitress. I was even a sales person at a jewellery store for a very short period of my life. None of these employment opportunities were particularly sexy or anything to write home about or paid spectacularly well but the experience they afforded me was priceless. (And over that long a period of time, that R12.50 here and there really did add up).

While it may be true that there just are not enough jobs available in the specific sectors the youth are trained in, perhaps, the youth of today also suffer from a lack of willingness to do just about everything and anything?

During a conversation with several colleagues, they agreed in their personal experience they were keener to do whatever it took to be employed – nevermind if it was not their dream job. And there was agreement that the youth of today want what they want or nothing at all. Then there was a general consensus toward this notion: “At the end of the day, while a tertiary education does count for something, employers also want to see that you have experience.”

But if there are no jobs available matching your qualifications, how do you get experience in your field to begin with then? Internships perhaps?

Is South Africa’s lack of internship programmes across a broad number of avenues letting its youth down?

Yes, larger corporations do offer these and they usually come in the form of bursaries. “We will pay for your education and you get a job for the next five years of your life”, which is not a bad deal. But in the bigger picture, that’s a very small percentage of tertiary-going youths who are afforded that opportunity in very specific trades: banking, engineering, actuaries et cetera. Then again, should more unpaid internships become available, will the youth necessarily see this as an opportunity for experience? A foot in the door? Or just another waste of time?

The well-known ethos of the “American dream” in this context is not so different from the South African youths. But equal opportunities when it comes to getting jobs – dream jobs in fact, so that all your aspirations and goals can be achieved is just that: a dream. And like the comedian George Carlin once said of the American dream, “You have to be asleep to believe it.”

I’d like to believe that in South Africa the youth would choose being awake. Because you need to be awake to be willing, and to be willing to experience.

Haji Mohamed Dawjee

Haji Mohamed Dawjee

Haji Mohamed Dawjee became Africa’s first social media editor in a newsroom at the Mail & Guardian, where she went on to work as deputy digital editor and a disruptor of the peace through a weekly column. A stint as the program manager for Impact Africa – a grant-disbursing fund for African digital journalists – followed. She now pursues her own writing full time by enraging readers of EWN and Women 24 with weekly and bi-monthly columns respectively. She also contributes to the Sunday Times and a range of other publications. Mohamed Dawjee's inaugural book of essays: Sorry, not sorry: Experiences of a brown woman in a white South Africa, is due for release by Penguin Random House in April 2018.Follow her on Twitter: @sage_of_absurd Read more from Haji Mohamed Dawjee

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