/ 28 June 2024

Young people want to work, not wait


A skilled, educated, economically supported youth is the bedrock of a strong democracy

The National Youth Development Agency continues to cement its position in being a major role player in empowering young people in South Africa. It centres its vision and mission on providing young people with links to their next opportunities for growth.

The NYDA’s strategy focuses on four core areas:

  1. A passion for developing young entrepreneurs.
  2. Supporting inclusive hiring through our JOBS programme.
  3. Revitalising the National Youth Service for active citizenry.
  4. Coordinating the Integrated Youth Development Strategy. 

Youth entrepreneurship has a large role to play in combating unemployment. A recent report on township economies estimates the potential market value to South Africa’s economy from its 500 major townships at R900 billion. This is potential that is largely unrealised: thanks to the distances and spatial exclusion of townships from central business districts, most of their businesses remain small scale and essentially survivalist, tending to circulate local resources rather than produce tradable goods and services that serve wider markets, create decent work opportunities and generate higher incomes.

The NYDA seeks to support youth micro-enterprises — young people who have dreams of owning their own businesses for the first time — supporting them with business management training, business development support, development finance, access to market programmes and mentorship. Over the course of the sixth administration more than 100 000 youth entrepreneurs have been supported, with more than 10 000 receiving financial support, creating more than 30 000 jobs.

Across sectors, employers who are prepared to redefine what a “good employee” looks like reap the rewards of inclusive hiring. Educational achievement doesn’t tell the full story of potential. Many young unemployed people in South Africa did not have the chance to perform at their fullest potential at school, whether it was due to poor resources or the hard set of life circumstances they faced in childhood. Through the JOBS program, working with employers on the demand side to understand their recruitment challenges, and on the supply side with young people, making them more visible to the labour market and crowding in partners such as the Sector Education Training Authorities, more than 75 000 young people have been placed in sustainable jobs over the last five years. 

There is a vast array of diverse young people ready and yearning to serve their country.  Youth service plays a role in civic responsibility, in developing a common identity, recovery and rehabilitation and nation building. This is a passionate and idealistic generation that sees the urgency and need and wants to serve those around them. There is a wealth of work for them to do in public schools, reigniting forgotten after-school programmes, in tackling societal issues such as alcohol and substance abuse and GBV, and in building social solidarity in their communities. Over the last three years more than 70 000 young people have been enrolled in a paid National Youth Service, making it one of the largest NYS programmes globally. 

At an individual level NYS participants have:

• Formed identities as working persons: realising the importance of having obtained work (being paid) and having been provided with an introduction to the world of work.

• Enjoyed financial benefits; for the majority it was the first time they had a bank account or earned an income. 

• Enjoyed greater self-reliance and self-confidence/increased assertiveness.

• Found service satisfaction from doing meaningful work.

At a community level, NYS participants have demonstrated agency and patriotism towards their community wellness and being part of change. They helped community ECD centres, supported schools with extra tutorial and life-skills, started and ran community gardens and ensured clean and safe spaces. There has been increased awareness about early child learning: over 30 000 children benefited from ECD services daily, more than 27 000 farmers were assisted by NYS farm assistants and 96 000 young people accessed sports, recreation, and life skills activities/coaching sessions delivered by NYS participants. Economically, participants use their stipend money to contribute to the local economy by buying from local vendors and increasing the demand and supply for goods and services in their communities.

Prior to Youth Month, on 18 May the NYDA honoured hundreds of its graduates who have completed their various academic qualifications while being funded by the Solomon Kalushi Mahlangu Scholarship Fund.  The fund was founded on 17 March 2014 in honour of the life of a stalwart whose life was cut short by the previous political regime.  The NYDA, having engaged with the Mahlangu Family and finding out that Solomon — or “Solly” as they fondly called him — wanted to be a teacher, established this fund in his name, which has been a great honour for his family. Witnessing the tangible materialisation of his values and ideals, even post his brief time on this earth, is the greatest respect the NYDA can bestow upon him.

This year’s Youth Day commemoration took place in the province of Limpopo, at the old Peter Mokaba Stadium located in Polokwane. The commemoration, under the theme “Actively embracing the socioeconomic gains of our democracy”, aimed to expose over 75 000 young people to 110 opportunity providers from various sectors in education, enterprise support, mentorship, banking and health facilities. Over the last two years, and post  the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been a reimagining of what the commemorative days ought to be like, as previous Youth Day approaches are no longer relevant to young people. The focus has instead become on having a large-scale career and opportunities expo for young people that offers them as many life opportunities as possible. Young people can relate to this more, as this is what interests them — opportunities for study, volunteerism, service, employment and entrepreneurship.

This Youth Month, we are reflecting on four years of transitioning young people from learning to earning. Central to the Presidential Youth Employment Intervention (PYEI)’s efforts is the establishment of the National Pathway Management Network (NPMN) led by the Department of Employment and Labour (DEL), a network-of-networks designed to support young people in navigating pathways into the economy.

To date, there are more than 4.4 million young people registered on the NPNM, and young people have accessed over 1.3 million earning opportunities, with the majority of these opportunities being accessed by young women, the most vulnerable and marginalised demographic in the labour market. The network brought together over 30 partners from the government, private sector and civil society, creating a comprehensive support system for young people.

A skilled, educated, economically supported population is the bedrock of a strong democracy. The involvement of young people in any formal economic activity fosters critical thinking, civic engagement, and a deeper understanding of South Africa’s desired solutions to address its current low economic growth and triple challenge status. It empowers individuals to participate actively in democratic processes, ensuring that our government remains accountable and responsive to the needs of its people. As the country ushers in the seventh administration, it is crucial to put the needs of young people at the helm of its developmental agenda. 

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