HUNT FOR WORK
Growing number of hurdles to youth employment leave many despondent in SA — but there is hope
Numerous structural barriers deny young people access to the formal sector, particularly for youth living outside of large cities. Furthermore, recruitment experts note the increasing mismatch between available talent and available jobs.
When Amogelang Moletsane (26) dropped out of civil engineering for financial reasons, she was embarrassed. She had to move back home from university, and she recalls desperately looking for jobs in a market that wouldn’t hire her.
“It was depressing,” she said. “It took a whole year to get over it.”
Moletsane’s story is not unique. South Africa’s youth unemployment rate is a staggering 46.5%, according to Statistics SA.
This statistic points to a lack of job growth, but is also indicative of a system that fails to support young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Meagan Naidoo (19) loves working with children and teaching them about mental, physical and spiritual health. She is technically unemployed but runs her own business selling paintings, jewellery and journals. Naidoo is financially independent. She hustles hard for her business and uses the income to buy toiletries and clothes.
She’s also trying to pack her CV with online short courses and volunteer opportunities so she can show future employers her strengths and passions. She aspires to be a therapist or art therapist but is still figuring out what courses she meets the requirements for and which she can afford.
“At this point, I still do not know what I want to study,” Naidoo said. “Because I have all of these talents and creativity … it’s like I’m still seeking where I fit in, in a certain career field.”
Many structural barriers keep young people out of the formal sector. Anele Ngwenya, the head of stakeholder engagements at Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator, said many young people who lived outside major cities did not have job networks and might not know about the opportunities that do exist.
It cost on average R1,500 to look for work, Ngwenya said, with costs such as transport and printing CVs. Data, which is needed to access online tools such as LinkedIn, was also pricey.
Another of the country’s challenges, Ngwenya said, was a mismatch between talent and jobs that are hiring.
“Unemployment rates have been growing largely because the economy is not growing fast enough to create the jobs that are required,” said Professor Lauren Graham, director of the Centre for Social Development in Africa at the University of Johannesburg. “And even when we have had economic growth, that hasn’t always been job-led or job-intensive economic growth.”
But even if the job market suddenly boomed, there would still be high youth unemployment. For Graham, the key is treating young people as whole people and addressing the many barriers they face.
“It’s not that our youth [are] lazy. It’s not that our youth want to be spoon-fed. Sometimes it’s that we grew up in educational systems that do not support the kind of community we are born in,” Moletsane said.
Ngwenya said Harambee had “sunrise sectors” it thought would have great job growth and prospects for young people. These include finance, social care services, agriculture, business services, digital communications and energy-related projects.
There was a strong focus on the formal sector, she said, but artisanal work sectors were often overlooked. “Like being an electrician, being a plumber. Young people just need to know that those are areas where they can thrive as well.”
The informal sector is also on the rise, with many young people becoming micro-entrepreneurs, such as doing nails or opening a car wash.
But before chasing down any job, Naidoo recommends you ensure you’re mentally healthy. You needed to be strong enough to make sure rejection did not lead to self-doubt, she advised.
Moletsane’s advice is to make sure your self-worth isn’t tied to your job. Instead, she recommends finding value in the skills, talent and personality you have to offer.
“It’s depressing … to not have money, but it’s much worse if you think you are useless, if you think you can never amount to anything,” Moletsane said. DM
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.