The recent statistics on youth unemployment in South Africa – 36.1%, an increase of 4% between 2008 and 2014 – suggest a daunting reality: our born-frees face a bleak future.
As a young South African, I see many of my peers facing growing challenges. With jobs being scarce and unemployment increasing, onerous policies such as a Black Economic Empowerment code that has done very little to empower the previously disadvantaged, and a poor education system, I can’t help but ask myself whether the new South Africa is failing us.
Although some youth have taken significant strides to craft better lives for themselves, others have resorted to crime to help themselves get by and others waste their lives away on drugs and alcohol.
The challenges we face as young people are greater than politicians seem to think. Not only do we have to make something out of a society that has classified us according to gender, race, ethnicity or class, we also continually find ourselves hustling to find opportunities – and unfortunately most of the time our efforts are fruitless.
Though young South Africans continue to dream and hope for better lifestyles, the reality is that only those with advantages such as degrees, work experience, well-spoken English, a driver’s licence and their own transport may find an opportunity to make their dreams come true.
Dramatic improvement to education
So what can be done to address these challenges we young people face? First, everyone agrees that South Africa needs to improve its education system dramatically, but how? Well, I would suggest that we start by dismissing the idea of a 30% matric pass mark.
This can be followed by creating an educational orientation that helps youngsters to become job creators, and not job seekers. It is well documented that education plays a vital role in a country’s economic growth and development.
One of the world’s economic giants, China, has invested heavily in education (about 4% of its gross domestic product) and has the largest education system in the world. Last month 9.39-million students took the national higher education entrance examination.
It is worth noting that the country has a constant teacher development system. Teaching has historically been and remains today a highly respected profession in China. Teachers have strong preparation in their subject matter, and prospective teachers spend a great deal of time observing the classrooms of experienced teachers, often in schools attached to their universities.
Once teachers are employed, there is a system of induction and continuous professional development in which groups of teachers work with master teachers on lesson plans and improvement. Here is a lead for South Africa!
Second, entrepreneurship and social innovation are vital to unlocking growth and economic inclusion in our developing economy.
Unfortunately there is a lack of an innovation culture within schools and tertiary institutions on the practical skills required to start, manage or work in entrepreneurial ventures.
The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor 2013 report indicated that South Africa’s percentage of new business entrepreneurs is extremely low compared with most developing countries. More than 60% of businesses that start in South Africa fail within the first year of opening. According to the report, this can largely be attributed to four major challenges.
• Culture: Entrepreneurship is not encouraged as a career in our schools, where there is more focus on finding employment than creating employment. We need to focus on introducing an entrepreneurial culture through competitions, training, workshops and seminars while teenagers are still in schools;
• Skills: The lack of knowledge, experience, business and entrepreneurial skills derives largely from inadequate formal education and training. Again, a remedial policy of a suite of introductory entrepreneur workshops and seminars would go a very long way towards breeding and instilling a culture of entrepreneurship;
• Support: Lack of government and private sector, parental and school sector support for enterprise skills hinders the growth of entrepreneurial skills at a young age; and
• Finance: Finance is difficult to access. For the few who try to establish and mimic business prowess, the red tape around access and other restrictions hinders a vibrant society of young entrepreneurs.
South Africa has a skills shortage. That is one of the main reasons for the high levels of unemployment in the country. Significant post-apartheid changes have not been enough to address this challenge.
The state’s suggestion of graduates undertaking a year of community service sounds worthwhile, but the downside of this is that this would delay the entry of graduates into the labour market. It would also most likely not improve graduate employability or effectively address skills shortages in the public service because graduates will not be receiving in-service training, but rather undertaking a year of community service.
What the state should do is implement strategies that will help expand opportunities for in-service training or internship programmes for graduates. Although community service seems sensible under certain circumstances, in truth it only becomes valuable to both parties when graduates are also given an opportunity to gain genuine work experience.
On Youth Day recently, many celebrated and honoured the young lives of those who fought for a democratic South Africa with parties and celebrations. I would like to think that a better way to do this is to roll up our sleeves and start resolving the many problems faced by the youth today – problems that prevent them from realising their potential to be productive and fulfilled citizens.
Abram Molelemane is the media co-ordinator of Fetola, a nonprofit organisation that focuses on stimulating the growth of the small business sector