South Africa


So, Minister Mboweni, what is the state doing about youth unemployment?

So, Minister Mboweni, what is the state doing about youth unemployment?
Unemployed men sit on a roadside seeking casual labour in Cape Town, South Africa 10 March 2017. (Photo: EPA/NIC BOTHMA)

With youth unemployment declared a priority in the Presidency, various experts in the job-creation field have weighed in on whether the government is doing enough to ensure young people are absorbed into the workforce.

Finance Minister Tito Mboweni made scant mention in his Budget2020 speech of how government funding would alleviate the youth unemployment crisis. This is despite President Cyril Ramaphosa mentioning a number of interventions in his earlier State of the Nation Address.

According to the latest StatsSA findings, more than 40% of youth aged 15 to 34 were not in employment, education or training (NEET). That is about 8.2 million unemployed persons out of 20.4 million in the age bracket.

Cosatu spokesperson Sizwe Pamla said the Budget speech provided “no clear plan” to fix the economy, so there was little hope the government could make headway in cutting youth unemployment.

Pamla said the government had become over-reliant on the private sector to provide jobs for young people. “Big corporations that dominate this economy are focused on mechanising, they are not interested in employing warm bodies.”

However, he believed there should be more public-sector investment in local small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and interventions to lower the cost of doing business.

“You look at the cost of petrol; it’s expensive, unaffordable,” said Pamla.

Cosatu has locked horns with the government following the controversial planned cuts to the public sector wage bill, with Pamla arguing that if people have less money to spend, the economy has less chance to grow: “You are indirectly sabotaging the economy,” said Pamla in the wake of the federation’s condemnation of the proposed R160-billion cut to public service wages between the 2020/2021 and 2022/23 financial years. 

Mboweni’s speech did mention ways in which SMEs would be assisted, including through BizPortal, a one-stop-shop platform for business registration.

Mboweni said plans to tackle youth unemployment would be fleshed out in the Medium Term Budget Policy Statement. He did, however, mention the Jobs Fund, which created 255,900 permanent and short-term jobs, and internships, 65% of which went to young people.

Treasury set aside R9-billion in 2011 for the Jobs Fund, which provides, among other things, grant funding to small businesses and assistance to job seekers.

Professor Lauren Graham of the Centre for Social Development in Africa (CSDA) at the University of Johannesburg said, according to the CSDA’s research, the government has made “significant investment” to address youth unemployment.

“Such investments include allocations of opportunities in the Extended Public Works Programme and the Community Works Programmes, the Employment Tax Incentive, various SETA-supported learnerships and internships, the Jobs Fund initiatives, and funding via the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) to support eligible young people to pursue further or higher education,” said Graham.

Despite this, the youth face multiple hurdles in the job seeking. 

Graham said young people are often caregivers, living in poor households, struggling with food insecurity, and may face health or mental health challenges.

She said the CSDA and its partners are developing a Basic Package of Support for Youth to address this challenge “at both a policy level and at the interface with young people”. 

Research has found many young people fall out of employment after short-term contracts end and there is low awareness about existing opportunities.

To Graham’s understanding, the Presidential Youth Employment Intervention will streamline existing government services helping the youth find jobs. 

This intervention is a six-pronged plan aimed at accelerating youth access to the job market over the next five years.

Alex Smith, on behalf of iKamva Youth, an NGO providing supplementary tutoring to children from under-resourced schools in five provinces, said more focus was needed on the education sector.

“In South Africa, approximately 500,000 young people drop out of school every year. With these levels, unemployment will continue to increase.”

Smith noted teachers were overburdened with curriculum coverage, large class sizes and variable abilities between learners in one class. A recent study showed that learners want more personalised attention from teachers, including advice on how to learn and study and which career path to follow.

Budget2020 documentation shows Treasury has set aside R248.6-billion for basic education, R118.8-billion for post-school education and training, R37.1-billion for NSFAS and R13.4-billion for technical vocational education and training (TVET) colleges.

Graham said TVET colleges were essential for solving the current crisis, but a perception of vocational colleges as “inferior” to universities needs to be shifted.

Colleges need to train people with skills “relevant for the future of work”.

The government has promised to build nine new TVET colleges across Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. DM


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