South Africa


Highly educated Millennials fare poorly in job market compared to predecessors

Highly educated Millennials fare poorly in job market compared to predecessors
Millennials have drawn the short straw in the job market, statistics show. (Photo: Adobestock)

Millennials were touted as the most educated South African generation in a recent StatsSA release, but of the Millennials who had tertiary qualifications, a higher percentage were unemployed compared to Generation X.

Fewer tertiary-educated Millennials in South Africa are employed compared to their counterparts from the previous generation, according to the Education and Labour Market statistics for 2018, released by StatsSA on 25 February 2020.

The report compares educational participation and attainment, the gender gap in education, and labour market participation of three generations in South Africa between 2002 and 2018: Generation X (born between 1960 and 1979), Millennials (born between 1980 and 1999) and Born-Frees (born after 1994).

The statistics showed that compared to Generation X, close to 10% of Millennials with tertiary education were unemployed as opposed to almost 6% of Gen-Xers – the stat compared both groups when they were aged 23 to 38.

Millennials were the most highly educated group of the three, with more Millennial females holding tertiary qualifications. The Born-Free generation was too young to compare statistics on tertiary education and employment.

The report outlines that Millennials stepped into less favourable economic times than Gen-Xers.

“Unlike Generation X individuals, Millennials in their 20s and 30s came of age during the bad economic conditions in South Africa, and consequently full and productive employment remained elusive for many youths in this generation. During 2008 to 2018, the unemployment rate fluctuated between the 20% and 30% band.” 

In an interview with Radio 786, Niel Roux, the acting chief director of social statistics at StatsSA, said the figures could also be attributed to population growth from Generation X to the Millennial generation and issues with the education system.

“It might be that the education system has created a lot of tertiary graduates, but not necessarily tertiary graduates in areas where they could actually enter the current economic structure. 

“So, unfortunately, it does seem like more people have education and they have better education than their parents, but it doesn’t seem as if they have the requisite economic opportunities to use that education,” he said.   

According to Nicola Branson, a senior researcher in the Southern African Labour Development Research Unit (Saldru) at the University of Cape Town, the figures could also be attributed to the types of tertiary qualifications held by unemployed Millennials.

“There are differences in labour absorption rates between TVET and university graduates as well as between certificates, diplomas and bachelor’s [degrees] within university etc. Therefore, the composition of the graduate body will affect absorption rates,” said Branson.

She said there had been a shift in the “share of tertiary” graduates holding diploma qualifications rather than bachelor’s degrees.

“Diploma qualifications tend to be in lower demand than bachelors.”

Statistics show that more Millennials went to TVET colleges. However, there was no indication of how many TVET graduates were employed/unemployed.

The government has shifted its focus towards the TVET sector. President Cyril Ramaphosa in his recent State of the Nation Address pledged to invest in the TVET sector by building nine new TVET colleges and introducing a three-stream curriculum model in schools to incorporate more vocational and technical education.

But statistics also showed that a high percentage of Millennials with jobs had no tertiary education, while just over 72% had either some secondary education or had completed their secondary schooling.

In terms of the Born-Free group, Roux highlighted that they were doing well in terms of educational outcomes.

“Both access and age-specific outcomes of Born-Frees have improved. The previous generation had much lower education access and a greater dropout rate. 

“The Born-Free generation tends to stay in school much longer. They achieve primary school education, they achieve Grade 9 education which is basically the age of 15, and also those who fall into this age group show more matric levels.” DM


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