Young South Africans must co-drive unemployment solutions

The FNB Stadium is the largest stadium in Africa. If we filled it 96 times, it still wouldn’t hold all the young people who are not in education, employment or training in South Africa. 

According to the latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey, four in 10 people aged 25 to 34 are unemployed, and 3.3-million working-age people have given up looking for work entirely. 

These figures not only underline the seriousness of the situation, they uncover the range of experiences millions of young South Africans face daily on their journey to quality work.

The current trajectory is unsustainable for both young people and the economy, and we can’t expect the figures to change if nothing else shifts. Solving this crisis means gaining understanding, and implementing a shared plan that incorporates the following critical features:

• Identifying the most urgent systemic challenges young people face on their journey to employment;

• Bringing young people’s experiences into focus; and

• Developing a focused response that brings together the work of government, civil society and the private sector.

How can we move from insight to action? And how can we ensure that young South Africans co-drive solutions that affect their own development?

These are the kinds of questions that led to the creation of Youth Capital, a youth-led advocacy campaign that aims to shift gears on youth unemployment. 

Youth Capital works to shape a new way to collectively tackle the crisis of youth unemployment. By joining the dots between young people’s experiences, data and policies, we created an action plan as a sector-wide response for the problem of youth unemployment. 

This plan unpacks some of the most pressing systemic challenges that contribute to youth unemployment, and highlights areas of solutions that would improve outcomes for young people. It supports them in finishing their educational journey, in their transition into the world of work and in ensuring that existing employment initiatives and opportunities work for them. 

Youth unemployment is a complex issue and many factors are at play. Some examples: in any given year, 250 000 young people work towards a matric qualification outside the full-time schooling system, through the department of basic education’s Second Chance Matric Programme, with little to no support. Looking for work costs about R550 a month, spent on data, transport and printing costs, a cost that many young job-seekers cannot afford. 

While existing public employment programmes, such as the recently implemented Basic Education Employment Initiative, are designed to provide young people with work experience and transferable skills, they tend to not provide meaningful support and guidance on exit pathways (as evidenced by the many young people who are once again out of employment and education after participating in these programmes).

If we are serious about tackling youth unemployment, we need to let young people’s experiences lead a programmatic and shared response. There is no time to waste. We’re losing out on the potential of a generation, and we can’t delay action any longer. 

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Kristal Duncan-Williams
Kristal Duncan-Williams, who has a master's in public health from the University of Cape Town, is the project lead for Youth Capital, a project incubated by DG Murray Trust. She has over 10 years’ experience in research in the fields of molecular biology, public health and youth employment. She is passionate about unlocking the untapped potential of young South Africans and believes that quality education, healthcare and employment are the critical building blocks for a thriving society. She has experience in research-driven advocacy and is passionate about making data accessible and engaging for everyone, so that they are able and equipped to advocate for themselves

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