South Africa


What are we getting wrong? Three-quarters of a million graduates apply for social relief grant

What are we getting wrong? Three-quarters of a million graduates apply for social relief grant
Unemployed graduates protest at Burgers Park before marching to the Union Buildings in Pretoria on 6 November 2018. (Photo: Gallo Images / Phill Magakoe)

Of the almost 14 million applications received for the social relief of distress grant by the end of January, 716,000 were tertiary graduates. This is according to figures by Sassa and the Department of Social Development.

One of the worrying trends in South Africa’s unemployment crisis is the number of graduates who apply for government’s R350 social relief of distress grant. Against the backdrop of a deepening economic crisis, the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) revealed last month that close to three-quarters of a million graduates had applied for the grant by the end of January 2023.

Of the 13.5 million applications received for the social relief grant by the end of January, 716,000 were tertiary graduates, according to figures by Sassa and the Department of Social Development.

In figures released on 1 March 2023, government indicated that the official unemployment rate stood at 32.7%. Although this figure is lower than the previously recorded 32.9%, there is much to be said about the high levels of unemployment in the county.

What the stats reveal is that amid rising unemployment, a new challenge is emerging in the saturated job market, which is job seekers with a particular skillset swelling its ranks. This is especially evident in that, despite many young people leaving institutions of higher learning with qualifications, many companies struggle to find ones with matching skills for their open positions.

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A Statista report by Saifaddin Galal indicated that, as of December 2022, unemployed graduates made up almost 3% of all unemployed in South Africa. This should be read in the context of 7.7 million reported unemployed persons in the third quarter of 2022.

Could the number of unemployed graduates who formed part of the unemployed statistics applying for the grant be a unique phenomenon for South Africa?

Shockingly, the global forecast of unemployment evaluation data between 1980 and 2027 shows that South Africa is and will remain at the top of the list of 100 countries, with 34.63 % unemployment in 2022 and 38.64% by 2027. This paints a gloomy picture for students currently studying and graduates who are actively seeking employment.

Are there solutions to this challenge? In a conversation during a workshop with students who the authors teach, some of them felt that higher institutions of learning have a transformative role to play in resolving this challenge.

Students highlighted key areas universities could focus on. Among these was the importance of student entrepreneurial education – the need to consult industry when designing and developing programmes in order to ensure that relevant knowledge aligned to the industry is taught.

Another key area raised was the need to expose students to various industries early on in their careers – for instance, this could be done in the second year so that they understand the industry they are being prepared for. And last, focus by academics on applied research. This is crucial for the mapping and identification of industry problems, and the ever-changing skills requirements.

Student enterprise programmes

Student enterprises have been proven to have a positive impact in ameliorating the unemployment rate, first by being able to identify and understand problems in a society. Enactus South Africa, for example, has introduced the refocus strategy by permitting its student members to create and own sustainable social enterprises. This aligns with and supports the initiatives that address societal challenges in South Africa and across the globe, guided by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Through programmes like this, the non-profit provides a platform for teams of outstanding university students to operate enterprises that put people’s own ingenuity and talents at the centre of improving their livelihoods. Guided by academics and supported by business leaders, Enactus students take the kind of entrepreneurial approach that empowers people to be a part of their own success.

Such initiatives help transform the lives of the target market, and in turn, the lives of our students as they develop into more effective, values-driven leaders in their own enterprises. The ownership of enterprises is initiated through the opportunities and resources presented through its partners and sponsors.

Universities can take a cue from such initiatives to enhance the employment prospects of their graduates. For example, universities can introduce programmes where students are guided by academics known as faculty advisers, who can act as mentors to the students’ enterprises and assist them to start and run enterprises under the institutions’ banners.

As with Enactus, each enterprise can be registered with the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission to make it a formal enterprise that complies with labour and tax laws. This has a positive and long-lasting impact on students as it results in them being job creators while studying, and not job seekers.

Transferable skills

As we enter the age of technological advancements, it is essential to recognise that, while the conferring of qualifications is undoubtedly important, it should not be the sole focus when it comes to training in institutions of higher learning. In the age of disruptive technologies, information quickly becomes obsolete.

Instead, institutions of higher learning should prioritise transferable skills such as communication, problem-solving and collaboration. Here, the teaching philosophies employed in business schools could be adopted to develop these skills in normal academic programmes.

Typically, these types of skills are applicable across a wide range of roles and industries and can make all the difference in creating a productive and efficient workforce.

In the companies of the future, which are highly globalised and exposed to the volatility, uncertainties, complexities and ambiguities of international markets, employers who solely focus on qualifications when hiring employees may find themselves with employees who struggle to adapt to new roles or industries. This could be detrimental to the fortunes of that company.

At the same time, employees who do not possess transferable skills could find themselves replaced, leading to increased unemployment.

The risk for higher education institutions is that the lack of emphasis on transferable skills can also result in qualifications becoming outdated or obsolete, particularly in fast-moving industries such as technology or marketing. Transferable skills, on the other hand, are more likely to remain relevant, making them a valuable investment for both the employer and the employee.

We propose that universities and TVET colleges recognise the importance of transferable skills and start prioritising these in their academic programmes. It has become increasingly evident that the gap between the skills demanded by employers and those inculcated in students by institutions of higher learning is widening.

For job seekers, it’s crucial to showcase their transferable skills alongside their qualifications. Doing so can set candidates apart and demonstrate their adaptability, versatility and potential.

Fourth industrial revolution

In today’s ever-dynamic world of work, it is crucial that all members of society possess the necessary 21st-century skills to compete in the fourth industrial revolution (4IR).

With the 4IR already impacting the state and its citizens, a 21st-century skills framework is an effective way to ensure that learners acquire the skills required to be meaningful contributors to the changing social and economic structure. However, the South African education landscape leaves much to be desired in terms of ensuring the acquisition of relevant skills to meet economic demands.

The transfer of knowledge from one subject to another enhances the learning experience by providing students with a holistic understanding of the world around them. The importance of skills development and skills transfer cannot be overstated, especially in a world where technology is rapidly changing the economic and social landscape.

In addition, the transfer of knowledge across different disciplines enhances the learning experience by providing students with a holistic understanding of the world around them. It is therefore imperative for educators to prioritise the acquisition of relevant skills and the transfer of knowledge in order to adequately prepare learners for the dynamic and ever-changing world of work. DM

Prof Tebogo Mashifana is the Head of the Department of Chemical Engineering and Associate Professor, University of Johannesburg (UJ); Prof Tankiso Moloi is a Director, Johannesburg Business School, UJ; Ms Lefera Maraka is a Lecturer in the Business Management Department, Faculty of Management Sciences at the Central University of Technology; Mr Taelo Mathuloe is a UJ Alumni. The authors write in their personal capacities.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Martin Ernst says:

    The solution to unemployment is quite simple, remove the blocks to economic growth:the ANC, BEE, transformation and affirmative action, the shockingly poor education system and SADTU, reform labour legislation to be more rational, reduce the powers of unions, enforce laws, put a non communist in charge of trade and industry .. none of it is rocket science , but as long as voters keep voting for the ANC unemployment will remain sky high

  • Karl Sittlinger says:

    Could we get a list of how many graduates passed what subjects? That may shed some light on why they are not getting jobs…

  • Wendy Dewberry says:

    Very sad for our youth in this country. We all know what has to change because people who know tell it all the time to people who can. But have chosen instead to take rather than lead. Sad thing is they didnt just misapproriate money. They misappropriated an entire generation of hope.

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