Tackling youth unemployment requires sustained and coordinated action

In our conversations with young people about their experiences of unemployment, it is clear that they face multiple roadblocks. These include information gaps, which was Lesego Banda’s experience: “When I left high school in grade 10, I didn’t know I could go to a Technical and Vocational Education and Training [TVET] College”. 

Access to infrastructure and resources is another roadblock. Sibongile Gquirana said that to look for jobs online, she had to stand outside a KFC restaurant to try to use the wi-fi. 

Public employment programmes can be roadblocks, if they are not treated as stepping stones to further opportunities. Bongiwe Dlutu from Ngqeleni, in the Eastern Cape, said: “Most young people in my village join short-term public works programmes; but they are back home once the programmes end.” 

These experiences are not isolated instances. Only six in 100 young South Africans who start grade 1 complete some kind of tertiary qualification. Three out of four unemployed young people have been without a job for a year or longer. And currently, 9.1-million young people are not in education, employment, or training. 

Our approach to solving youth unemployment has not reaped many rewards, because it doesn’t consider this full, complex journey that young people face when transitioning from school to work. The rich civil society landscape, existing government interventions, and technological innovations are assets that, if better integrated and coordinated, could unlock job prospects for young people. 

Youth Capital’s latest report, Unlock Jobs: Clearing Roadblocks to Youth Employment, highlights proposals and innovations to clear roadblocks to ensure that both alternative pathways to certification and workplace-based learning are effective, to make job-seeking affordable, and to leverage public employment programmes to direct young people into quality work. 

Improve certification rates

With a matric certificate often a requirement in entry level jobs, an educational qualification is a powerful accelerator on the road to quality work and further training. But many young people do not have an educational qualification. School dropout levels are at the highest in the past 20 years, and a large number of those who manage to get post-school education and training do not complete their qualification.

Although alternative routes to certification exist, they need to be made visible and integrated in the department of basic education, the department of higher education and training and the private sector. 

The General Education Certificate (GEC), currently in draft form, would enable grade 9 school leavers to get post-school education and training opportunities. But to ensure that it works effectively, the policy must track GEC-qualified learners, obtain buy-in and recognition from potential employers, and create a smooth transition into TVET Colleges. 

TVET colleges are also in the spotlight as they offer a pathway to quality work, especially for young people who leave school after grade 9 or obtain matric without a bachelor’s pass. But many TVET college students do not get their qualification because they are unable to complete the practical component of their studies (workplace-based learning). Ensuring that TVET college students complete their qualification requires greater coordination between colleges, industry bodies and employers for the provision of holistic support through the skills development journey and into the labour market.

Make job-seeking affordable

Because job-seeking costs an average of R938 a month, most young people have to weigh up the cost of looking for work against basic necessities. Solutions to clear this obstacle include a range of support measures, and technology is a critical lever. Chat-based applications (such as WhatsApp), artificial intelligence and zero-rated sites have the potential to make vacancies visible and reachable. But to ensure that affordable job-seeking becomes a reality, employers should support alternative recruitment platforms such as the government’s zero-rated platform SAYouth, and mobile network operators should zero-rate platforms that offer (up)skilling content and job-seeking support.

Make public employment work

Public employment programmes have long been a key component of the government’s strategy to tackle unemployment. Implemented as part of the government’s response to the harmful effects of Covid-19, the Presidential Employment Stimulus provided the financial resources for the Basic Education Employment Initiative (BEEI). Driven by the department of basic education, the BEEI is South Africa’s largest public employment programme, with Phase One providing short-term contracts for 300 000 young people employed as school assistants.

Although programmes such as the BEEI are a terrific opportunity to kickstart young people’s journey into earning, they could offer a more sustained return on investment if integrated with the development of scarce skills and longer-term strategies. We can achieve this with a better alignment of skills funding (through TVETs), critical community services (such as early childhood development), and entities (such as the Youth Employment Service) that can provide opportunities, mentoring and support. 

No single initiative can solve youth unemployment on its own. It’s urgent that we pinpoint the roadblocks in the path of so many of South Africa’s more than 20 million young people. Solving the youth unemployment crisis requires greater coordination and collaboration — pooling resources, knowledge, and experience make the critical shifts (both large and small) needed to clear the road for young people.

Youth Capital is a youth-led advocacy campaign to reduce youth unemployment with a focused action plan, currently powered by a network of over 50 organisations. You can read Unlock Jobs: Clearing Roadblocks to Youth Employment here

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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
Mario Meyer
Mario Meyer is the learning and policy manager at Youth Capital
Lethiwe Sinodumo Nkosi
Lethiwe Sinodumo Nkosi is the network mobiliser at Youth Capital
Clotilde Angelucci
Clotilde Angelucci is the communication strategist at Youth Capital, which campaigns to reduce youth unemployment.

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